Published: 2023-05-22 14:14
Last Updated: 2023-06-04 01:00
At least 20 people were killed and several injured Sunday in a school dormitory fire in Guyana, the government said in a statement, with the nation's president calling it a "major disaster."
"This is a major disaster. It is horrible, it is painful," the South American nation's President Irfaan Ali said Sunday night.
The death toll had risen to 20 and several people were injured in the fire at the Mahdia Secondary School in central Guyana, the government statement said.
"We have lost many beautiful souls in that fire," it added. "We ask that our prayers continue to be with these children, their families, and communities."
Ali said he had ordered arrangements be made in the capital Georgetown's two major hospitals "so that every single child who requires attention be given the best possible opportunity to get that attention."
Private and military planes have been sent to Mahdia, located about 200 kilometers (124 miles) south of Georgetown, as the region is affected by heavy rains.
"Five planes have already taken off to Mahdia to support the regional health officials with additional medical supplies and medivacs," the government statement said.
"At this moment, seven children are prepared to be medivac to Georgetown."
At least one plane with three evacuees arrived in Georgetown, according to an AFP journalist.
The government said officials were supporting efforts at Ogle airport in the capital to "receive the critical patients and coordinate an emergency plan of action."
"A full-scale medical emergency action plan has been launched," it added.
Natasha Singh-Lewis, an opposition MP, called for an investigation into the fire's cause.
"We need to understand how this most horrific and deadly incident occurred and take all necessary measures to prevent such a tragedy from happening again," she said.
Guyana, a small English-speaking country of 800,000 people, is a former Dutch and British colony which recently discovered it holds the world's largest per capita oil reserves.
Among the poorest nations in South America, it hopes the discovery will help spur rapid development.
The country boasts the second-highest percentage of forest cover on earth.