Twenty-four people, mostly teenage boys, were killed Thursday when a blaze tore through a religious boarding school in Malaysia, in what officials said was one of the country’s worst fire disasters for years.
The blaze broke out before dawn in the tahfiz — an Islamic religious school — in the heart of the capital Kuala Lumpur.
Firefighters rushed to the scene and the blaze was out within an hour but not before it wreaked terrible devastation.
Officials suspected an electrical short circuit caused the fire that broke out in a top floor dormitory, where most of the students perished.
Pictures in local media showed ash-covered, fire-blackened beds, as horrific accounts emerged of the youngsters trying to escape the school as it went up in flames and neighbors hearing their cries for help.
“The children were desperately trying to escape the flames,” Federal Territories Minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor said in a television interview.
Metal grills prevented them from exiting the burning three-story building, he said.
Kuala Lumpur Police chief Amar Singh said that “the bodies were totally burned”.
“Unfortunately there was only one entrance, so they could not escape. All the bodies were found lumped on one another.”
The Star newspaper reported that people in the area who had woken for morning prayers heard cries for help and saw flames engulfing the top floor of the building.
Officials initially said 23 students and two teachers were killed in the blaze. Police later revised down the death toll to 22 students and two teachers.
Six other students were in hospital in critical condition, police chief Singh said, while a handful escaped unhurt.
He said the victims, who were students, were all boys aged between 13 and 17.
Khirudin Drahman, director of Kuala Lumpur’s fire and rescue department told AFP it was one of the country’s worst fire tragedies in 20 years.
Officials said based on the records of the Kuala Lumpur fire safety department, the school had just submitted a request for fire safety approval for the building but no checks had been carried as the request was still being processed.