At least 19 “young people” died in Guyana in the fire of a girls’ school dormitory in Mahdia, a landlocked mining town in this small country in northeastern South America, overnight from Sunday to Monday .
“This is a major disaster. It’s horrible, it’s painful”, regretted President Irfaan Ali, stressing that the country had “implemented large-scale medical relief […] and made special arrangements” for the injured.
“Fourteen young people died on the spot, while five died at the Mahdia district hospital. Two children remain in critical condition, while four suffer serious injuries,” according to a statement from firefighters on Monday.
These six injured “were transferred by plane to Georgetown”, the capital, while “five others are still hospitalized in Mahdia and ten others are under observation”, according to the same source.
“The firefighters managed to save around twenty students by drilling holes in the northeast wall of the building”, according to the text of the firefighters. The windows of the concrete building had security bars.
A total of 63 students were inside the building at the time of the disaster.
A previous report, given by the government, reported “20 dead” in the fire at the “Mahdia secondary school dormitory”, in the center of the country.
The fire, whose origin is not known, broke out in the girls’ dormitory where young people from “11-12 to 16-17 years old live”, specified on condition of anonymity a person who accompanied the help on site. The building is completely charred with walls blackened by the flames. The tin roof collapsed.
The government said five planes had taken off for Mahdia to help “regional health officials provide additional medical equipment and carry out medical evacuations”.
At the end of the morning, around fifty people expressed their anger after the tragedy in Chenapau, a village near Mahdia where some of the victims are from, told AFP Michael McGarrell, reached by telephone and who lost two nieces.
“We need to be compensated for our losses,” read a sign. “Bars are for prisoners. We need justice,” according to another poster.
“The pain, the agony, the trauma… who will be held responsible? What are we going to tell the parents? asked Mr. McGarrell, an activist with the NGO Amerindian People’s Association (APA), often at odds with the government over land rights, gold panning and, more recently, the sale of carbon credits to the American oil company Hess.
The city of Mahdia is located approximately 200 km south of Georgetown. The region is affected by heavy rains.
“Our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of those affected by this tragedy,” said Natasha Singh-Lewis, Opposition MP.
“We call on the authorities to carry out a thorough investigation into the causes of the fire and to provide a detailed report on what really happened. We must understand how this horrific and deadly event happened and take all necessary measures to prevent such a tragedy from happening again in the future,” she added.
A small poor English-speaking country of 800,000 inhabitants, Guyana, a former Dutch and then British colony, has the world’s largest per capita oil reserves and hopes for rapid development in the years to come with the exploitation of these reserves which is still at his beginnings.
Specialists estimate that the Guyana-Suriname basin contains around 15 billion barrels of oil reserves associated with significant gas deposits.