23 die in school dorm as blaze blocks vic­tims from exit

Las Vegas Review-Journal - - WORLD - By Eileen Ng The As­so­ci­ated Press

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 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 neigh­bors 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.and­tookan­hour­top­utout­the 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 said­sixother­stu­dentsan­dares­i­dent 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.

Fire de­part­ment se­nior of­fi­cial Abu Obai­dat Mo­hamad Saithal­i­mat said the cause was thought to be an elec­tri­cal short-cir­cuit, but Singh said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was con­tin­u­ing.

“The wall shouldn’t have been there,” Noh Omar, Malaysia’s min­is­ter for ur­ban well-be­ing, hous­ing and lo­cal gov­ern­ment, said of a wall block­ing the sec­ond exit.

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