At least 19 children have been killed in a fire which raced through a dormitory at a school in Guyana, as authorities investigate whether it was deliberately set.
All but one of the victims were indigenous girls, officials said.
“This is a horrific incident. It’s tragic. It’s painful,” President Irfaan Ali said, adding that his government was mobilising all possible resources as he requested help from the region to identify the remains of 13 bodies.
The fire broke out at about 10.50pm on Sunday in the dormitory building of a secondary school that serves remote, mostly indigenous villages and is located in the border town of Mahdia, a gold and diamond mining community about 200 miles south of the capital, Georgetown, the government said in a statement.
Deputy fire chief Dwayne Scotland said “the fire was maliciously set” and began in the building’s south-west corner.
Police chief Clifton Hicken added that “initial investigations suggest that it was maliciously set” and said that while the girls’ dormitory had five doors, iron grill work trapped them inside.
“This is the saddest day of my life as president. I wish it had not occurred,” Mr Ali said.
Thirteen girls and a young boy died in the dormitory and five died in hospital, the government said.
“When firefighters arrived on the scene, the building was already completely engulfed in flames,” Guyana’s fire service said in a statement.
“Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the relatives and friends of those young souls.”
Officials said two children remain in a critical condition and four have severe injuries.