At least 20 people, many of them children, were killed when a fire engulfed a dormitory at a school in central Guyana, the government said on Monday.
Several others were injured in the fire, which broke out overnight in the city of Mahdia, about 120 miles southwest of the capital, Georgetown, including seven students who were in critical condition and were about to be airlifted as part of a « full-scale emergency medical action plan » The government said in a statement.
« We lost many beautiful souls in that fire, » the statement said.
President Mohamed Irfaan Ali of Guyana was « supporting efforts » to receive and treat the survivors, who were being flown to Ogle Airport, also known as Eugene F. Correia International Airport, in the capital, according to the statement.
Images posted by a local newspaper showed a plume of incandescent smoke rising from the burning building of Mahdia Secondary School.
Five aircraft stocked with medical supplies were flown to Mahdia to support ground rescue and evacuation efforts.
« It is with a heavy heart and grief that the Cabinet is being informed and kept abreast of a terrible fire, » the government said in an earlier statement on Monday, adding that « inclement weather » has posed « serious challenges » to relief efforts . « Our thoughts and prayers are with our children and their families at this time, » the statement said.
The origin of the fire had not yet been confirmed. Natasha Singh-Lewis, a representative of the opposition coalition A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change, called for a thorough investigation into « what went really wrong » at the school, in a statement posted on Facebook on Monday.
« We need to understand how this horrific and deadly accident occurred and take all necessary measures to prevent such a tragedy from happening again, » he said.