A fire broke out on Thursday morning at an Islamic boarding school for boys killing 24 people, in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.
The blaze was reported was reported at around 5.40 am local time.
The school is located in a three-storey building in central Kuala Lumpur. Named Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah, it is a “tahfiz” boarding school where students learn to memorise the Quran. The blaze began in the sleeping quarters on the top floor of the building, according to a statement from the Malaysian Fire and Rescue Department.
“The children were desperately trying to escape the flames,” Federal Territories Minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor said in a television interview, “There were metal grills which prevented them from exiting the burning 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.
Kuala Lumpur police chief Amar Singh told reporters the boys who died were aged 13-17, and that they were probably suffocated due to smoke inhalation. The dormitory had only one entrance, leaving many of the victims trapped inside, he said. Some witnesses said they had heard the students crying for help after the fire broke out. “They’re still counting the bodies, which were piled on top of each other in a corner,” Singh said.
Seven people were taken to a nearby hospital for injuries, while 11 others were rescued, officials said.
Electrical short circuit suspected as reason
Officials suspected an electrical short circuit caused the blaze that broke out in a top floor dormitory, where most of the students perished. The police chief said no foul play was suspected.
Minister Tengku Adnan said the school had been operating without a licence, while local media reported that officials had recently raised fire safety concerns about such private schools.
“The religious school did not have an operating licence from the local authorities,” he said. “The school also does not have any licence from the local religious authorities.”
“Worst fire disaster in past 20 years”
“It really does not make sense for so many to die in the fire,” Khirudin Drahman, director of Kuala Lumpur’s fire and rescue department told AFP. “I think it is one of the country’s worst fire disaster in the past 20 years.”
Malaysian prime minister Mohd Najib Tun Razak tweeted his sympathies to those affected. His tweet read: “Innalillah. It’s sad to read Tahfiz Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah Center burned & killed more than 20 lives. May the blessed soul of Allah SWT. Al Fatihah”
Innalillah. Amat sedih baca Pusat Tahfiz Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah terbakar & korban lebih 20 nyawa. Moga roh dirahmati Allah SWT. Al-Fatihah
— Mohd Najib Tun Razak (@NajibRazak) September 14, 2017
Loga Bala Mohan, the government’s federal territories deputy minister, said: “We sympathise with the families. It is one of the worst fires involving so many lives in the capital in recent years. We urgently want the authorities to quickly probe the cause of the deadly fire so that we will be able to prevent future disasters.”
Hundreds of people, including families of some victims were gathered outside the school, as more bodies were being removed by fire officials.
Tahfiz schools have been flagged earlier for safety issues
The Star reported that the fire and rescue department had raised concerns about fire safety measures at unregistered and private religious schools, and had recorded 211 fires at the institutions since 2015.
These schools are unregulated by the education ministry and fall under the purview of the religious department.
In August, 16 people including eight students fled an early morning fire at a family-run tahfiz in Baling, in the northern state of Kedah, the paper reported. There were 519 tahfiz schools registered across the country as of April, but many more are believed to be unregistered, the paper said.
With inputs from agencies