Nineteen young people died on Sunday in Guyana in a fire, possibly "malicious" according to the police, which completely ravaged a school dormitory for girls in Mahdia, a landlocked mining town in this small English-speaking country in South America.
The victims were trapped in the building whose windows were fitted with bars, and the firefighters managed to save around twenty students by drilling holes in the wall.
The fire broke out in the girls' dormitory where young people from "11-12 to 16-17 years old live", said on condition of anonymity a person who accompanied the emergency services on the spot. The building is completely charred with walls blackened by the flames. The tin roof collapsed.
"This is a major disaster. It's horrible, it's painful", regretted Monday President Irfaan Ali, who went there in the afternoon, decreed three days of mourning national and met with the relatives of the victims.
“Initial investigation suggests the fire was started maliciously,” Guyana Police Chief Clifton Hicken told a televised briefing in Mahdia, without further details.
"Fourteen young people died on the spot, while five died at the Mahdia district hospital", according to a press release from the firefighters, revising downwards a previous death toll of 20 dead. Seventeen people are still hospitalized.
The president confirmed these figures, specifying that a little boy and 13 young girls had died on the spot and that five people had died in the hospital of Mahdia.
According to the new report, 59 young girls were "registered" in the dormitory but three were absent to spend the weekend at home.
"Firefighters managed to save about 20 students by drilling holes in the northeast wall of the building," the firefighters' statement said. The windows of the concrete building had security bars.
Evacuations by plane and the arrival of medical reinforcements were made difficult by heavy rains, the emergency services said.
The city of Mahdia is located approximately 200 km south of Georgetown. The journey by car is on a track and usually lasts a day.
Monday morning, about 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, a resident of Georgetown reached by telephone and who lost two nieces.
"We need to be compensated for our losses," read a sign. "Bars are for inmates. We need justice," read another poster.
"The pain, the agony, the trauma... who will be held responsible? What are we going to tell the parents?" said 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 company American oil company Hess.
“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. necessary 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 its beginnings.
Specialists estimate that the Guyana-Suriname Basin contains around 15 billion barrels of oil reserves associated with significant gas deposits.
23/05/2023 04:11:47 -- Georgetown (Guyana) (AFP) © 2023 AFP