Malaysia school fire kills 23 peo­ple

The Daily Observer - - WORLD NEWS - EILEEN NG

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — A fire that blocked the only exit to an Is­lamic school dor­mi­tory killed 23 peo­ple, mostly teenagers, on the out­skirts of Malaysia’s largest city early Thurs­day, of­fi­cials said. A gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial said a wall sep­a­rat­ing the vic­tims from a sec­ond exit “shouldn’t have been there.”

Fire­fight­ers and wit­nesses de­scribed scenes of hor­ror — first of boys scream­ing for help be­hind barred win­dows as neigh­bours watched help­lessly, and later of burned bod­ies hud­dled in cor­ners of the room. Is­lamic teacher Arif Mawardy said he woke up to what he thought was a thun­der­storm, only to re­al­ize it was the sound of peo­ple scream­ing.

Fire­fight­ers rushed to the scene af­ter re­ceiv­ing a dis­tress call at 5:41 a.m. lo­cal time and took an hour to put out the blaze, which started on the top floor of the three-storey build­ing, Kuala Lumpur po­lice chief Amar Singh said.

Singh said 23 bod­ies were re­cov­ered — 21 boys be­tween the ages of 13 and 17 and two teach­ers.

“We be­lieve (they died of ) suf­fo­ca­tion ... the bod­ies were to­tally burnt,” he said. Singh said 14 other stu­dents and four teach­ers were res­cued.

Health Min­is­ter S. Subra­ma­niam said six other stu­dents and a res­i­dent who went to help were hos­pi­tal­ized, with four of them in crit­i­cal con­di­tion. He said the 23 bod­ies were wait­ing to be iden­ti­fied through DNA.

The fire broke out near the only door to the boys’ dor­mi­tory, trap­ping the vic­tims be­cause the win­dows were barred, fire depart­ment se­nior of­fi­cial Abu Obai­dat Mo­hamad Saithal­i­mat said. He said the cause was be­lieved to be an elec­tri­cal short-cir­cuit, though Singh said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was con­tin­u­ing.

An­other fire depart­ment of­fi­cial, Soiman Jahid, said fire­fight­ers heard shouts for help when they ar­rived at the school. He said they found a pile of bod­ies in the right cor­ner of the dorm and an­other pile in the left cor­ner.

A res­i­dent, Nurhay­ati Ab­dul Halim, was quoted as say­ing that she saw the boys cry­ing and scream­ing for help.

“I saw their lit­tle hands out of the grilled win­dows; cry­ing for help . ... I heard their screams and cries but I could not do any­thing. The fire was too strong for me to do any­thing,” she said. She added that the school had been op­er­at­ing in the area for the past year.

SADIQ ASYRAF/GETTY IMAGES

Malaysian Fire and Res­cue per­son­nel stand out­side the Darul Qu­ran It­ti­faqiyah school in Kuala Lumpur on Thurs­day, af­ter 23 peo­ple, mostly teenage boys, died when a blaze tore through the build­ing.

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