Girls’ school dormitory fire kills at least 19 children, shakes Guyana

A fire that engulfed the dormitory of a girls’ boarding school in Guyana overnight killed at least 19 children, authorities said on Monday. At least nine more were injured in the blaze, which has shaken the small South American country.

Authorities initially said that 20 people had died in the fire at the Mahdia Secondary School, but a spokeswoman for the national fire service said Monday that one victim was resuscitated and in critical condition on a ventilator. The dead included 18 girls and a boy, the caretaker’s son, spokeswoman Silyne Griffith told The Washington Post.

“Firefighters did manage to rescue some 2o students by breaking holes in the northeastern wall of the building,” she said.

Irfaan Ali, president of the nation of 800,000 people on the North Coast of South America, called the fire “tragic and painful” and “horrific.”

“The full results of what happened are not here as yet,” Ali said in a statement. “The focus now is on the children to ensure that we do everything, to give them as much help as we can.”

The fire started just after 11:30 p.m. Sunday at the high school in the mountainous central town of Mahdia, nearly 200 miles from Georgetown, the capital. Neighbors raced to the scene; some heard the cries of those trapped inside, local media reported.

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The government launched “a full-scale medical emergency action plan,” authorities said, with aircraft loaded with medical supplies and personnel to assist local responders. Within hours, critically injured victims were evacuated to Georgetown. Others were admitted to Mahdia District Hospital or were under observation.

Guyana’s national security adviser, Gerry Gouveia, told local media that it was “a battle” flying through lightning and thunder to reach the area.

“It was really a national effort and still continues,” he said. “All of the operators — Air Services, Trans Guyana, Roraima, the Ghana Defense Force, the Air Corps — responded immediately.”

Investigators were working to determine the cause of the fire. Authorities were working to determine the names and ages of the victims.

First colonized by the Dutch and later incorporated as British Guiana, Guyana gained independence from Britain in 1966. It’s the only country in South America where the official language is English, and it remains a member of the commonwealth. In recent years, it has drawn attention for the massive offshore oil reserves that are expected to transform its economy.

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