School fire claims lives of 26 pupils

Women surround another woman who collapsed and screamed after the bodies of pupils and a teacher, who were killed in an overnight fire at a Koranic school, were taken to the burial site in Monrovia, Liberia, on Wednesday
Women surround another woman who collapsed and screamed after the bodies of pupils and a teacher, who were killed in an overnight fire at a Koranic school, were taken to the burial site in Monrovia, Liberia, on Wednesday
Image: CARIELLE DO/AFP

A huge fire at a Liberian Koranic school killed at least 26 pupils and two teachers on Wednesday when flames engulfed their dormitory, in one of the worst disasters of its kind for the West African nation.

The boys were sleeping at the school when the overnight fire began, police spokesperson Moses Carter said, adding that an electrical fault could have caused the blaze.

President George Weah visited the site in Paynesville, on the outskirts of the capital, Monrovia, and said the cause was still unknown.

“We are here to encourage parents of the victims to have strength, because it is painful to lose your kids in this manner,” Weah said at the scene.

The president’s office said 26 pupils aged 10 to 20 died along with two teachers. The police spokesperson said 27 pupils had been killed.

On Wednesday evening, the president of neighbouring Guinea, Alpha Conde, said several of his country’s nationals had died in the blaze.

He expressed “great emotion” over the deaths and sent his deepest condolences to the Liberian people and the Guinean community in Liberia, adding he was following the investigation closely.

“We extend our sympathy to the bereaved families.

“We don’t know the cause of the fire yet, but we will encourage our investigators to find how it happened.”

Rescuers in white masks and surgical gloves carried the children’s bodies in bags from the burnt-out building as crowds of people and relatives pressed together outside.

“Our team is investigating the cause of the fire – it may be electrical,” the police spokesperson said, while refusing to rule out the possibility that the fire was a criminal act.

“I was sleeping when I heard noise outside. My wife opened the back door and we saw smoke coming from the front,” resident Zazay Ballah said.

“We came out and saw fire at the back.

“We went for water, trying to put it out, and when the firefighters came, the fire was already going down.”

The victims were buried swiftly in a collective ceremony, in the Muslim tradition.

In an earlier tweet, Weah offered condolences to the families of those affected.

“My prayers go out to the families of the children who died last night in Paynesville City,” he wrote.

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