School fire kills at least 23 students in Kuala Lumpur


POLICE will leave no stone unturned in the investigation into the fire that broke out yesterday in Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah in Kuala Lumpur.

Numerous bodies of the victims - who included 21 boys mostly in their teens - were found piled on top of one another, indicating there may have been a stampede as the students sought to escape the inferno, which erupted before dawn.

But Khirudin Drahman, director of Kuala Lumpur's fire and rescue department, told AFP that authorities were now investigating claims gas cylinders could have played a role.

"This also would have made it hard for victims to escape in an emergency", he said.

Health Minister S Subramaniam said the bodies were waiting to be identified through DNA and the process is expected to take at least two days.

The fire was reported around 5:40 a.m. local time (21:40 UTC Wednesday), according to the Malaysian Fire and Rescue Department.

The Islamic "tahfiz" boarding school, where students learn to memorise the Koran, is in the Jalan Datuk Keramat area of the city.

Images and videos circulating online showed the entire upper room of the school ablaze.

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Fire officials said it appeared that the blaze was caused by a short circuit, but confirmation of this would only come following a forensic examination. Amar Singh who is the chief of the Malaysian Police Department says that all the students who have lost their lives are in the age group of 13 to 17 years.

Malaysia's urban wellbeing and housing minister said there had been 29 fire incidents at tahfiz schools in the country since 2015.

Earlier this year an 11-year-old schoolboy died in hospital after reportedly being beaten by a warden at a religious school.

"I could hear screaming, I thought there were people fighting".

Boys cried for help from barred windows at dormitory in Kuala Lumpur. Also, the windows are having grills through which students can not exit.

He said the living arrangements at the top floor were very cramped with double-decker beds placed too close to one another. "Every one of the bodies were discovered lumped on each other".

The fire officials said that the blaze broke out in the bedrooms on the top floor of the three-storey school building just before dawn.