Chil­dren heard scream­ing from barred win­dows

The London Free Press - - NP - EilEEn ng

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA • Malaysian au­thor­i­ties were in­ves­ti­gat­ing the cause of a fire early Thurs­day that blocked the only exit of an Is­lamic dor­mi­tory on the out­skirts of Kuala Lumpur, killing 23 peo­ple, most of them teenagers. 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. and took an hour to put out the blaze, which started on the top floor of the three-story build­ing, Kuala Lumpur po­lice chief Amar Singh said. Singh said 23 charred 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 in the Foren­sics De­part­ment 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. Lo­cal me­dia showed pic­tures of black­ened bed frames in the burned dor­mi­tory. 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. The school, Darul Qur’an It­ti­faqiyah, is a pri­vate Is­lamic cen­tre, known as a “tah­fiz” school, for Mus­lim chil­dren, mainly boys, to study and mem­o­rize the Qur’an.

Re­porters and a Malaysian po­lice truck wait out­side an Is­lamic re­li­gious school fol­low­ing a deadly fire on the out­skirts of Kuala Lumpur Thurs­day. An of­fi­cial said the fire started early at the top floor of the three-story build­ing. DANIEL CHAN / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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