A total of 19 children died this Monday and six are in critical condition due to a fire that devastated the dormitory of the Mahdia Secondary School, 161 kilometers southwest of Georgetown, capital of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.
The Guyana Fire Service revised downward the death toll in the incident, which earlier in the day authorities put at 20. The dead are 18 girls, students at the school, and a five-year-old boy, who was identified as the son of one of the caretakers at the center.
According to the latest data released in a statement by the Fire Service, six girls were airlifted to a hospital due to the extent of their injuries. In this regard, the medical officer of the Georgetown Public Hospital burn unit, Vickita Nandan, told reporters that the girls are battling life-threatening burns. Two of them were admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and are fully intubated, while another underwent surgery to save one of her limbs.
Firefighters managed to rescue about 20 students alive by opening holes in the northeast wall of the building, which has bars. "Our team is still investigating on the ground to clarify how the fire started and all the necessary information," said the note from the firefighters, who expressed their condolences to the relatives of the victims.
Also extended her "sincere condolences to the Government and people of Guyana" was the Secretary General of the Caribbean Community (Caricom), Carla Barnett, of which Guyana is a member. "We pray for a speedy recovery of those injured and affected and offer the support of Caricom member states. Our thoughts and prayers are with you at this time of unimaginable loss," Barnett added in a statement.
According to authorities, approximately 57 children were housed in the dormitory. The students were from the mountain towns of Chenapau, Karisparu, Micobie and El Paso.
Prime Minister Mark Phillips, accompanied by Education Minister Priya Manickchand and Interior Minister Robeson Benn, have begun visiting affected students and their families.
The President of Guyana, Irfaan Ali, who described what happened as "horrendous", assured that "all efforts are being made to have a large-scale reinforcement and evacuation medical response."
However, the government's reaction has not been enough for the indigenous Amerindian peoples of the Chenapau village. "We need compensation. We need justice," chanted at least 60 men and women outside Chenapau Elementary School, the institution many of Mahdia High School's students attended.
Native American rights activist Michael Mc Garrell appealed for the help and care of the families of the victims and survivors living in remote communities. Mc Garrell, who has lost two relatives in the fire and three others are hospitalized, denounced that the children died "burned in deadly traps."
According to what the local media have published, among those killed in the fire are two sisters, aged 15 and 13, and four cousins, between the ages of 12 and 18.