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Deadly fire at religious school in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Police and rescue personnel work at an Islamic religious school cordoned off after a fire on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017. A fire department official in Malaysia said a fire at the Islamic religious school has killed people, mostly teenagers. (Photo: AP)

Deadly fire at religious school in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

A fire that blocked the only exit to an Islamic school dormitory killed at least 23 people, mostly teenagers, on the outskirts of Malaysia’s largest city early Thursday, officials said. A government official said a wall separating the victims from a second exit “shouldn’t 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 corners 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 5:41 a.m. 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 said 23 charred bodies were recovered — 21 boys between the ages of 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.

Health Minister S. Subramaniam said six other students and a resident who went to help were hospitalized, with four of them in critical condition. He said the 23 bodies were in the Forensics Department waiting to be identified through DNA.

The fire broke out near the only door to the boys’ dormitory, trapping the victims because the windows were barred, fire department senior official Abu Obaidat Mohamad Saithalimat said. He said the cause was believed to be an electrical short-circuit, though Singh said the investigation was continuing. (AP)

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