On May 21, Sunday night, a fire broke out in a school dormitory in the town of Mahdia, Guyana. At least 15 people have been killed so far and several more injured, with the vast majority being children under the age of 18.
Background Information on Guyana
Guyana is a South American country with a population of just under 800,000 people. It is a part of the Anglosphere, i.e., the English-speaking world. The capital of the country is Georgetown. The country is led by President Irfaan Ali.
President Irfaan Ali, Image Source: stabroeknews
The School Dormitory Fire
The school dormitory was located in the town of Mahdia, which is famous for gold and diamond mining. The city is located approximately 300 kilometres south of the capital, Georgetown.
The school mostly served indigenous and Native American children between the ages of 12 and 18. The fire started between 10 and 11 p.m. on Sunday night, and by the time first responders and firefighters reached the scene, the building had already burned down.
According to first responders, 14 children had died on the spot, with five more dying later in a local hospital. Several more children were also injured and suffered burns; they were flown out to the capital for treatment. Earlier deaths were estimated to be 20, but figures were revised by the government.
While the cause of the fire is currently unknown, the initial police investigation seems to suggest that the fire may have been set off intentionally. Guyana Chief Police Commissioner Clifton Hicken said, “Initial investigation suggests that the fire was maliciously set”.
Image Source: The Mirror
Reactions and Responses in Guyana
The tragedy caused anger and grief among the people of Guyana, as President Irfaan Ali declared three days of national mourning. He said that it was a horrible, tragic, and heartbreaking incident, saying his government was providing all possible care to the survivors and victims.
The firefighting department of Guyana issued a statement saying, “When firefighters arrived on the scene, the building was already completely engulfed in flames. Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the relatives and friends of those young souls. Firefighters did manage to rescue some 20 students by breaking holes in the northeastern wall of the building. Our team is still on the ground investigating as we seek to provide clarity regarding how the fire started and all other necessary information.”
Opposition party APNU has called for a thorough investigation and has praised the local community for helping those trapped in the burning building.
Opposition member Natasha Singh said, “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.”
While the nation goes through three days of mourning, the police and fire departments are investigating the cause of this tragedy.