At least 20 children dead in Guyana school fire

At least 20 children have died in a fire in the central Guyanese mining town of Mahdia, officials say.

The fire broke out just after midnight on Monday, engulfing a secondary school dormitory and trapping students.

Emergency services are struggling to contain the fire because of bad weather conditions, the government says.

Several more people have been injured and some are being prepared for evacuation to the capital, Georgetown, where a special centre has been set up.

“This is a major disaster. It is horrible, it is painful,” said Guyanese President, Irfaan Ali.

Mr Ali was quoted by AFP as saying that, as well as medical teams stationed at the airport, Georgetown’s two major hospitals would be prepared “so that every single child who requires attention be given the best possible opportunity to get that attention”.

Home Affairs Minister, Robeson Benn, is at the scene of the disaster, and the prime minister and other government officials are on their way there.

“It is with heavy heart and pain that the Cabinet is being briefed and kept updat­ed on a horrific fire at the dormitory in Mahdia. All efforts are being made to have a full-scale medical evacuation-supported response,” the government’s Department of Public Information said in a statement.

Guyana is located between Venezuela and Suriname on the northern coast of South America. Sandwiched between Vene­zuela and Suriname, the former British col­ony of Guyana is the only English-speaking country in South America.

Since independence from the UK in 1966, Guyana has seen fierce political rival­ry between the two main ethnically-based parties.

Most of the country is covered in tropical rainforest and, despite having rich reserves of bauxite, gold and timber, it has traditionally struggled to overcome poverty and attract investment to bolster its economy.

Guyana’s economy has been undergoing a transformation since the discovery of crude oil in 2015, and commercial drilling in 2019. A century-old border dispute with Venezuela has revived after this discovery of major offshore oil reserves. .—AFP

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