Liberia: Fire Claims 28 Children At Islamic School in Paynesville

The scene of the fire in which dozens of children died.

A major tragedy hit one of the Islamic community schools in the clustered and isolated Bassa Town settlement in Red Light, Paynesville City, where at least 28 twenty eight Islamic students between the ages of 12 and 18 years of age, met their tragic demise in a house fire.

Frantic efforts by neighbors and other residents to extinguish the blazing fire proved fruitless as the fire engulfed the entire school building.

The Madrissah Islamic school, situated very close to a mosque established by members of the Fula ethnic group, hosted the more than 28 male students as a day care and boarding institution.

According to highly placed security sources, the fire disaster or tragedy occurred at about 11:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 17, after a heavy downpour of rain that fateful evening.

During a prompt visit at the scene, President George Manneh Weah said it is unfortunate for someone or people, especially children, to die in a fire disaster. "We want the family to know that the government is with them and will do all to establish the fire outbreak.

"I want to encourage them to have strength, because when one person dies, it's painful. With this saga, it's disastrous, painful and it hurts," President Weah said.

The cause of the fire has not been established. The Liberia National Police and National Disaster Management Agency are investigating the incident, a statement from the Executive Mansion says.

However, Prominent residents of Bassa Town community, in separate interviews with the Daily Observer, alleged that the Liberia Electricity Corporation transmission lines connected to the Islamic School and Fula Mosque were faulty and caused the fire. Other sources say the school was connected to "community current" -- someone who owns a large generator and sells electricity to subscribers in the neighborhood.

As news of the fire tragedy broke out on radio and social media, thousands of Liberians flooded in and out of the scene of the fire disaster.

Almost all of the children's bodies were burnt beyond identification, except through highly specialized medical examination by expert medical specialists.

At the scene, all the parents and relatives of the deceased students were seen weeping and wailing as the bodies were pulled out of the debris of the totally destroyed school building.

Some of the relatives, mainly members of the Fula ethnic group, described the incident as an irreparable loss. They however prayed and offered supplications that Allah (God) grant the innocent Arabic students some beautiful places in Heaven and bring comfort to the hearts and souls of the bereaved parents and relatives.

"We are indeed in disbelief and total shock that such tragedy and disaster have snatched our beloved, brilliant and promising Arabic school children forever from the face of our troublesome planet, Earth," said Madam Salimatu Bah, mother of three of the deceased boys.

"I definitely have hope that our children are now going to meet and rest with our mighty Allah in paradise, where I believe there is no sorrow and grief like such a fire disaster," Madam Bah added.

During the transfer of the burnt out Arabic students into a Ministry of Health pick-up, hundreds of weeping and wailing men and women swarmed the vehicle and it took security personnel almost 45 minutes to get through the massive crowd of people who wanted to take a glimpse of the corpses all in black bags.

A Madrissah school is an Islamic institution where students assemble to study and memorize the Holy Qu'ran in Arabic for a certain period of time.

According to sources close to institution the students had already completed memorizing the entire Holy Qu'ran as one major requirement of the Islamic school.

The bodies of the deceased, once gathered from the scene, were bagged and taken for final prayers at 2:00 p.m. today, September 18, at the 17th Street Mosque in Sinkor, Monrovia. They were subsequently interred at the Muslim graveyard in Gaye Town, Old Road community.

The prayers for the victims were attended by several dignitaries , including political leader of the opposition Alternative National Congress, Alexander B. Cummings. Mr. Cummings extended sympathy to the families, while describing its as a national tragedy.

Meanwhile, Paynesville City Corporation (PCC) in a statement posted on its website mourns the tragic death of residents in Bassa Town, Paynesville City at the Quranic Recitation Center.

The Mayor, City Council and employees of the City Government of Paynesville mourn the tragic death of at least 26 pupils and two instructors of the Bassa Town Quranic Recitation Center located in Paynesville City.

Alvin Worzi contributed to this story.

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