Firefighters and witnesses described scenes of horror first of boys shouting for help behind barred windows as neighbors looked helpless and later burned bodies curled up in the corners of the room. Islamic master Arif Mawardy said he woke up to what he thought was a storm, only to realize that it was the sound of people shouting.
Firefighters rushed to the scene after receiving a distress call at 5-41 in the morning and took an hour to put out the fire, which began on the top floor of the three-story building, said Kuala Lumpur Police Chief, Amar Singh.
Singh said that 23 calcined bodies were recovered 21 children between the ages of 13 and 17 and two teachers.
“We believe [died of] asphyxiation … the bodies were totally burned,” he said. Singh said 14 other students and four teachers were rescued.
The fire broke out near the only children’s bedroom door, trapping the victims because the windows were closed, said fire chief Abu Obaidat Mohamad Saithalimat. He said the cause was believed to be an electrical short circuit, although Mr. Singh said the investigation was continuing.
Another fire department official, Soiman Jahid, said firefighters heard shouts of help when they arrived at school. He said they found a pile of bodies in the right corner of the bedroom and another pile in the left corner.
Local media showed pictures of blackened bed frames in the burned dormitory. One resident, Nurhayati Abdul Halim, was quoted as saying he saw the children crying and screaming for help.
“I saw his little hands from the roasted windows, crying for help … I heard his screams and shouts but I could not do anything … The fire was too strong for me to do anything,” he said. He added that the school had been operating in the area for the past year.
Noh Omar, Malaysian Minister of Urban Welfare, Housing and Local Government, said the school’s original architectural plan included an open top floor that allowed access to two exit ladders. But he said that a wall had been built dividing that floor, leaving only one exit for the bedroom.
“The wall should not have been there,” he said. He added that the school filed an application for a fire safety permit that had not been approved.
The school, Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah, is a private Islamic center, known as a “tahfiz” school, for Muslim children, mainly children, to study and memorize the Koran.
School principal Mohamad Zahid Mahmood was quoted by the newspaper Berita Harian as saying that students were being housed in a temporary building due to renovation work in the main building of the school. He said they should return by the end of this month.
Mohamad Zahid said the school has been operating for 15 years and is registered with the state Islamic religious council. He said the school had housed 42 students, six teachers, and two guardians.
The Star newspaper said there were 519 Tahfiz schools registered nationwide as of April, but it is believed that many more are not registered. Many of these schools are exempt from state inspections.
The newspaper said the fire department has logged 211 fires in private Islamic centers since 2015. In August, 16 people fled a fire at a school in Tahfiz in the northern state of Kedah. Another Tahfiz school was destroyed by a fire in May, but no one was injured.
The worst fire occurred in 1989 when 27 students from a private Islamic school in Kedah state were killed in a fire that eviscerated the school and eight wooden shelters.happy wheels
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