At least 19 children killed in Guyana school dormitory fire

At least 19 children have died in a fire that broke out in a school dormitory in central Guyana that largely served nearby Indigenous communities, the South American nation’s government says.

The fire broke out in a secondary school around midnight on Sunday in the gold-mining town of Mahdia in the Potaro-Siparuni district, 320km (200 miles) south of the capital, Georgetown. The school served children aged 12 through 18 in the area and Mark Ramotar, the director of the police communications department, said that most of the 19 killed were Indigenous.The government initially put the death toll at 20, but later revised their count downward to 19. National Security Adviser Gerald Gouveia said the figure was changed after doctors revived a badly injured victim who “everyone thought was dead”.

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

The department said that 14 students died at the scene and five died at the hospital, where two remain in critical condition and four have severe injuries. Six students were flown to a hospital in Georgetown, the nation’s capital, with five being treated at the hospital in Mahdia.

The department said that firefighters were able to rescue about 20 students after breaking open spaces in the walls of the school, and that the source of the fire was being investigated. Local newspaper Stabroek News reported that the fire broke out in a girls dormitory.There have also been reports that difficult weather may have complicated assistance efforts, with Gouveia stating that heavy thunderstorms complicated the task of pilots attempting to respond.

Denis Chabrol, a journalist in Guyana, told Al Jazeera in a TV interview that bad weather had complicated efforts to transport injured children out of the area for medical treatment via plane. He also explained that contacting the families of those killed or injured could be difficult, since the school catered to children from communities in the region that are sometimes difficult to access.

“Emergency responders and government officials will have to contact the parents and guardians of the children who perished and were injured,” Chabrol said. “It’s going to be a really challenging time for the officials to actually communicate with the parents and guardians of those who are effected by this fire.”President Irfaan Ali called the tragedy “horrible” and “painful” late on Sunday, and the APNU+AFC opposition party said in a statement that it would seek a thorough investigation.

“We need to understand how this most horrific and deadly incident occurred and take all necessary measures to prevent such a tragedy from happening again in the future,” said opposition member of parliament Natasha Singh-Lewis

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