Malaysian school fire may not have been ac­ci­dent

The Jakarta Post - - SPORTS -

Malaysian au­thor­i­ties said on Fri­day they had not ruled out foul play in a fire that killed 23 chil­dren and teach­ers in a re­li­gious school, as calls mounted for bet­ter safety reg­u­la­tions in Is­lamic study cen­ters, Agence FrancePresse re­ports.

The fire broke out in the board­ing school in down­town Kuala Lumpur be­fore dawn on Thurs­day. Fire­fight­ers ex­tin­guished the blaze within an hour, but not be­fore it had gut­ted the school’s topfloor dor­mi­tory.

Of­fi­cials ini­tially said they be­lieved the blaze was caused by an elec­tri­cal short cir­cuit or a mos­quito-re­pelling de­vice, but Khirudin Drah­man, di­rec­tor of Kuala Lumpur’s fire and res­cue depart­ment, told AFP that au­thor­i­ties were now in­ves­ti­gat­ing claims gas cylin­ders could have played a role.

“We have not ruled out foul play,” Khirudin said. “The foren­sic team is do­ing the lab­o­ra­tory tests. We want to wrap up the re­sults as soon as pos­si­ble.”

Hor­rific ac­counts emerged of stu­dents cry­ing out in des­per­a­tion and stick­ing their hands through the metal se­cu­rity bars sur­round­ing the dor­mi­tory as the fire took hold, with neigh­bors look­ing on help­lessly. Some man­aged to es­cape by break­ing through a grille and jump­ing out or slid­ing down drain pipes. A hand­ful are be­ing treated in hos­pi­tal. One of the sur­vivors said two cylin­ders were left by the dor­mi­tory door and had caught fire, pre­vent­ing those in­side from leav­ing.

Az­zarudin Roslan, who was among those who broke open the win­dow grill, could not be­lieve most of his friends per­ished in the fire, The Star news­pa­per re­ported. Still vis­i­bly shaken, he re­mem­bers hear­ing the dis­tinct hiss of a gas leak. “Ev­ery­one was afraid and was rush­ing to find a way out,” said the 15-year-old.

Us­taz Mohd Arif Mawarty, 24, was asleep on the first floor when he heard a loud hiss­ing sound com­ing from one of the rooms. He said the noise was like a storm and he shouted for the other teach­ers stay­ing on the floor to get out. Mohd Arif said the fire spread very fast and they did not have enough wa­ter to fight the blaze.

“I tried to reach the top floor but the flames were too big. We felt help­less. There was noth­ing we could do,” he said, adding that he found it strange there were gas cylin­ders on the top floor. “Usu­ally it’s green gas cylin­ders used by the school but the ones placed on the top floor were yel­low,” he said.

Muham­mad Da­nial Amru AlHaz Ali said the rag­ing fire was just too strong to fight. “I could not go back and help my friends who were cry­ing for help,” said the 16-year-old. When the fire started, he said, their room quickly filled with smoke. Muham­mad Da­nial was asleep, but woke up to see his friends fran­ti­cally try­ing to find a way out. He said he only man­aged to es­cape be­cause his bed was lo­cated near a win­dow.

“My friends who were near the door were not so lucky,” he said.

With a few oth­ers, Muham­mad Da­nial man­aged to break open the win­dow and grill to get out.

“We then climbed down us­ing the pipes to safety,” he said.

At a hos­pi­tal, hearses car­ried some of the school­boys’ bod­ies to a small Is­lamic prayer hall where they were to be pre­pared for burial, as anx­ious fam­i­lies waited, AFP re­ported. As medics fin­ished iden­ti­fy­ing the badly burnt bod­ies us­ing DNA tests, graves were be­ing dug at a grave­yard out­side Kuala Lumpur where some of the vic­tims were ex­pected to be buried later on Fri­day. At the burial site, 12 graves were be­ing pre­pared and chairs had been set up for fam­ily mem­bers.

Gravedig­ger Nasri Mustapha, 42, told AFP he felt a “deep sense of sor­row, anger and help­less­ness,” adding: “The chil­dren died hug­ging one an­other.”

The Star said there were 1,034 blazes at reg­is­tered and un­reg­is­tered re­li­gious schools be­tween 2015 and Au­gust 2017, with 211 de­stroyed.

Sur­viv­ing chil­dren tell hor­rific sto­ries of flee­ing while their friends die be­hind them Wit­nesses re­port see­ing un­usual can­nis­ters in school and hear­ing hiss of es­cap­ing gas

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