23 DIE IN MALAYSIA SCHOOL FIRE.
Children heard screaming from barred windows
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