Fire destroys school dormitory in Guyana, killing at least 19 children, many of them indigenous

GEORGETOWN, Guyana — An overnight fire broke out at a dormitory in Guyana early Monday, killing at least 19 students and injuring several others at a remote boarding school that caters to mostly indigenous villages, authorities said.

“This is a terrible event. This is tragic. It is painful,” President Irfaan Ali said, adding that his government is mobilizing all possible resources to care for the children.

The government said in a statement that the fire broke out shortly before midnight in the dormitory of Mahdia High School on the southwestern border, a gold and diamond mining community about 320 kilometers south of the capital, Georgetown.

Officials first said 20 students were killed, but later revised the death toll to 19, with more injured. National Security Adviser Gerald Gouveia said the number was revised after doctors revived a very critical patient who “everyone thought was dead.”

“When firefighters arrived on the scene, the building was completely engulfed in flames,” the Guyana Fire Department said in a statement. “Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the relatives and friends of the young souls.”

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According to the department, 14 students died on the spot and five others died at the local hospital. Authorities say two children remain in critical condition and four are seriously injured. Six students were taken to Georgetown for treatment, five others are being treated at Mahdia Hospital and another 10 are under observation.

“Firefighters managed to rescue about 20 students by breaking holes in the northeast wall of the building,” the department said. “Our team is still on the scene investigating to clarify how the fire started and any other necessary information.”

The school mainly serves indigenous children between the ages of 12 and 18, Gouveia said. He said it was too early to speculate on what may have started the fire, adding that severe thunderstorms in the area were a challenge for air responders.

β€œIt was a battle for us,” he said. “The pilots were very brave, very determined.”

He added that the government and the emergency responders “made a gigantic effort” to save as many people as possible.

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Ali said officials have contacted parents and mobilized psychologists to help treat those affected by the fire.

“I can’t imagine the pain the parents are going through right now,” she said. “It’s a big disaster.”

Local newspaper Stabroek News reported that the fire broke out in a girls’ dormitory.

The opposition party, APNU+AFC, issued a statement that also said it would demand a thorough investigation and thanked people in the small community for helping authorities rescue the trapped children.

“We need to understand how this most horrific and deadly incident happened and take all necessary measures to ensure that such a tragedy does not happen in the future,” said opposition MP Natasha Singh-Lewis.