Fri, Sep 15, 2017 - Page 5 News List

Kuala Lumpur fire claims young lives

NO EXCEPTION:The fire in a school dorm at an Islamic study center is one of 211 recorded since 2015 at such institutions, as many are exempt from state inspections

AP, KUALA LUMPUR

Men hug each other outside the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah Islamic religious school in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, yesterday after a fire raged in the school’s dorm, killing 23.

Photo: AP

A fire that blocked the only exit to a dormitory killed 23 people, mostly teenagers, at the Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah Islamic school on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur yesterday, officials said.

A government official said a wall separating the victims from a second exit “should not have been there.”

Firefighters and witnesses described scenes of horror — first of boys screaming for help behind barred windows, as neighbors watched helplessly, and later of burned bodies huddled in a corner of the room.

Islamic teacher Arif Mawardy said he woke up to what he thought was a thunderstorm, only to realize it was the sound of people screaming.

Firefighters rushed to the scene after receiving a distress call at 5:41am and took an hour to put out the blaze, which started on the top floor of the three-story building, Kuala Lumpur police chief Amar Singh said.

Singh revised the death toll, saying there were 23 charred bodies instead of 24 — 21 of them boys between 13 and 17, and two teachers.

“We believe [they died of] suffocation ... the bodies were totally burnt,” he said.

Singh said 14 other students and four teachers were rescued.

Malaysian Minister of Health S. Subramaniam said that six other students and a resident who went to help were hospitalized, with four of them in critical condition.

The fire broke out near the only door to the boys’ dormitory, trapping the students, as the windows were barred, Kuala Lumpur Fire and Rescue Department deputy director Abu Obaidat Mohamad Saithalimat said.

He said the cause was believed to be an electrical short-circuit, although Singh said the investigation was continuing.

Department deputy director-general of operations Soiman Jahid said firefighters heard shouts for help when they arrived at the school.

He said they found 13 bodies huddled in a pile in the right corner of the dorm, another eight in the left corner of the dorm and one in the middle near the staircase.

Local media showed pictures of blackened bunk-bed frames in the burned dormitory.

Resident Nurhayati Abdul Halim told local media that she saw the boys crying and screaming for help when the fire broke.

“I saw their little hands out of the grilled windows; crying for help. ... I heard their screams and cries, but I could not do anything. The fire was too strong for me to do anything,” she said.

She added that the school had been operating in the area for the past year.

The school’s original architectural plan included an open top floor that allowed access to two exit staircases, but a wall was built dividing that floor, leaving only one exit for the dorm, Malaysian Minister for Urban Well-being, Housing and Local Government Noh Omar said.

“The wall shouldn’t have been there,’’ he said.

He added that the school submitted an application for a fire safety permit that had not been approved.

The Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah is a private Islamic center, known as a “tahfiz” school, for Muslim children, most of them boys, to study and memorize the Koran.

An Islamic governmental religious official, who declined to be named as she was not authorized to speak to the media, said the school was not registered with the local Islamic council.

The Star said that 519 tahfiz schools were registered nationwide as of April, but many more were believed to be unregistered.

Many such schools are exempt from state inspections.

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