23 killed as fire traps 'screaming' boys in school
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 yesterday, 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 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 realise it was the sound of people screaming.
Firefighters rushed to the scene after receiving a distress call at 5.41am and took an hour to put out the blaze, which started on the top floor of the three-storey building, said Kuala Lumpur police chief Amar Singh. He said 23 charred bodies were recovered - 21 boys between the ages of 13 and 17, and two teachers.
Mr Singh said 14 other students and four teachers were rescued.
Health Minister Subramaniam Sathasivam said six other students and a resident who went to help were hospitalised, with four of them in critical condition.
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 the investigation is continuing.
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 ... but the fire was too strong for me to do anything," she said.