19 children perish in school fire – GUYANA IN PAIN

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

DUST AND ASHES: Investigators and government employees inspect the school dormitory on Monday, after a fire killed at least 19 people in Mahdia, Guyana on Sunday night. AFP PHOTO –

EIGHTEEN girls and a five-year-old boy were killed in a fire at a secondary school dormitory in Guyana, shortly before midnight on Sunday, in a tragedy that has left the region in mourning.

The girls were students of the Mahdia Secondary School, living on the compound in a dormitory. The boy, Adonijah Jerome, lived in an apartment next to the dormitory with his parents, who were the caretakers.

The Prime Minister has reached out to his Guyanese counterpart, President Irfaan Ali, offering condolences and assistance if needed.

“My brother I feel your pain. This horrible tragedy meets all that we have been enduring on a daily basis. I am here dealing with our constant criminality but this accidental horrific tragedy with the loss and suffering that is added in your area is testing our faith like no other,” Dr Rowley wrote in a WhatsApp message to Ali yesterday.

Ali later declared that as of 4 pm on Monday, Guyana will observe three days of mourning, with all flags flown at half mast.

According to the Caribbean News Agency (CANA), the fire broke out shortly before midnight in Mahdia, which is some 200 kilometres away from the country’s capital, Georgetown. Mahdia is the capital of the Potaro-Siparuni region eight.

The students were from the villages of Chenapau, Karisparu, Micobie and El Paso.

According to 9NewsBreak in Guyana, one student reported hearing screaming close to midnight. The girl said she saw the bathroom area on fire.

At that time, there were 63 girls in the dormitory.

Of the 19 victims, 14 died in the building, five died at the Mahdia district hospital and one died on the way to a hospital in Georgetown. There were difficulties getting into the areas and several planes were used to take the injured students to the hospital in Georgetown.

News Room Guyana has identified ten of the victims, including Adonijah. The girls have been identified as Bibi Rita Fiona Jeffery; her cousins Sabrina John, 16, Loreen Evans, 14, and Belnisa Evans 13; twin sisters Mary and Martha Dandrade; Omefia Edwards; Natalie Bellarmine; and siblings Delecia and Arianna Edwards.

Six girls were airlifted to the Georgetown Public Hospital with serious burns with one receiving “limb-saving” surgery.

The girls were all in critical condition, suffering from burns and smoke inhalation. All six are between 12 and 14. Two senior doctors were flown into Mahdia to assess the other students and determine who needed critical care yesterday.


According to News Room Guyana, fire fighters were able to rescue 20 girls.

“Fire fighters did manage to rescue some 20 students by breaking holes in the north-eastern wall of the building.

“Our team is still on the ground investigating as we seek to provide clarity regarding how the fire started and all other necessary information. It is a sad day for Guyana and the entire fire department mourns with you over the loss of so many young children. Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the relatives and friends of those young souls and our prayers remain with you,” the fire service said.

While there has been no official statement yet on the cause of the fire, News Room Guyana reported it was set maliciously by a student.

The girl was upset after her phone was seized by a teacher and vowed to “give trouble,” the news site reported.

Ali and other members of his Cabinet visited Mahdia on Monday, pledging support for the families.

He told them no effort would be spared.

“Every conceivable help, every conceivable assistance, every conceivable action that is required of the government, we will do, we will support and we will ensure that we are with you not only this day but through this difficult time.

“At this time, we are going to deal preliminary with the parents, family members,” he said.

Ali asked for the families to be given time to talk with officials, and held a private meeting with them.

He said the government was trying to bring experts to assist in identifying the bodies. Counselling will also be provided to the families, students and those in the community.


Caricom’s secretary general Dr Carla Barnett sent condolences to the families and people of Guyana on Monday.

“We pray a speedy recovery for those injured and otherwise impacted and offer the support of Caricom member states as the community returns to normalcy. Our thoughts and prayers are with you at this time of unimaginable loss,” Barnett said.

In a statement from the Government, Minister of Foreign and Caricom Affairs Dr Amery Browne said he has been in constant contact with his Guyanese counterpart, Hugh Todd.

“The government and people of TT stand with the government and people of Guyana in the aftermath of the devastating fire in Mahdia. Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has been in direct communication with President Irfaan Ali; the Prime Minister has expressed condolences on the terrible loss of lives, and has offered any assistance possible.”

In a statement, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said she was deeply saddened by the tragedy. “As a parent myself, I can only imagine the pain and grief that the families of these children are feeling. My thoughts are with you during this difficult time and I pray that you find the strength and courage to face the days ahead.”

The Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) also sent condolences.“The loss of these young people with such bright potential is shocking and painful. We pray at this time for the survivors and family members of those students whose lives were lost,” Dr Wayne Wesley, CXC’s registrar, said.