A nation mourns: 19 children die, 41 survive tragic school dorm fire maliciously set by student

…DNA analysis to be carried out on 13 bodies

By Pooja Rambaran

Nineteen children died following a fire on Sunday that engulfed Mahdia Secondary School’s female dormitory in Region Eight (Potaro-Siparuni).
Dead are eighteen girls between the ages of 12 and 17 and a five-year-old boy. The dead students are Tracil Thomas; Lisa Roberts; Delicia Edwards; Lorita Williams; Natalie Bellarmine; Arriana Edwards; Cleoma Simon; Subrina John; Martha Dandrade; Loreen Evans; Belnisa Evans; Mary Dandrade; Omerfia Edwin; Nickleen Robinson; Sherina Daniels; Eulander Carter; Andrea Roberts and Rita Jeffrey. Additionally, five-year-old Adanye Jerome, the son of dorm parents who were attempting to rescue other children at the time, also lost his life.
The Mahdia school dormitory houses about 59 students from communities of Karisparu, El Paso, Micobie and Chenapao, Region Eight.
Of those who passed away is 13-year-old Micobie resident Andrea Roberts, who leaves behind her parents, four sisters and two brothers.
“Happy, joyful, always willing…if I asked [her for anything], she was always willing,” said Benedict Roberts, the victim’s father.
According to the senior Roberts, his daughter’s body was beyond recognition when it was recovered.
“I can’t explain my feelings,” Roberts said.

Maliciously set
Following initial investigations, Guyana Fire Service Deputy Chief Fire Officer Dwayne Scotland revealed that the fire was maliciously set and the origin was identified as the south-western end of the building.
Scotland added that after this initial discovery, the scene was handed over to the Guyana Police Force.
Though it has not yet been confirmed by authorities, Guyana Times was reliably informed that the fire was allegedly set by a student who was upset by the confiscation of her phone following concerns that the dorm administrators had with her behaviour.
She was reportedly previously suspended for engaging in activities contrary to the rules of the institution and was involved in an argument with the administrators during which she allegedly threatened to cause “trouble.”
The fire was set in the bathroom area of the dormitory and the student is currently under psychological supervision.
According to a Guyana Fire Service press release, 14 youths died at the scene of the fire, while five died at Mahdia District Hospital, with five remaining at the Mahdia Hospital and 10 under observation.
Head of GPHC’s Burns Unit, Dr Shilindra Rajkumar alongside Dr Christopher Heywood were flown into the mining town to provide immediate care to victims and determine which were required to be shifted to the hospital.
As such, six were initially air-dashed to Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) through one of the medical evacuation efforts coordinated by President Dr Irfaan Ali, who was at the Eugene F Correia International Airport, Ogle, East Coast Demerara in the wee hours of Monday morning. The medical evacuation was overseen by National Security Advisor Gerry Gouveia.
“All of the operatives – Air Services, TransGuyana, Roraima, the Guyana Defence Force Air Corp – responded immediately as the horrific details of this came to us,” Gouveia said.
“It was a battle because of the weather. There was a lot of lightning and thunder…but the pilots were very brave and determined,” he said, adding that Mahdia’s mountainous terrain was an additional challenge.

Of the six admitted to GPHC, two were intubated and receiving ventilation support in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and one was rushed to the Operating Theatre (OT) to undergo limb saving surgery.
The other three children, who were in less critical conditions, received assistance in the hospital’s Paediatric High Dependency Unit (HDU), which is a step-down from the ICU according to Medical Officer within the Burn Unit, Dr Vickita Nandan during a press conference.
While the parents of these children were still in Mahdia, they were receiving updates from Dr Rajkumar, according to the Human Services and Social Security Minister, Dr Vindhya Persaud, who was also present at the press briefing.
Dr Persaud added that plans to mobilise a mental health support team to aid affected children and parents of the fatal fire were underway, with the team including members of the Health Ministry’s Mental Health Unit, Guyana Public Health Corporation (GPHC) Psychiatry/Psychology Unit and Human Services and Social Security Ministry’s Child Care and Protection Agency.
“We are now endeavouring to not only deal with those persons who are survivors and experiencing the trauma [and] ordeal but also the parents and families who also have to deal with that trauma,” Dr Persaud said.
Later Monday, three more children were admitted to GPHC.
“We managed to triage and figure out those who need a higher level of care and we brought them out in stages as they would have become more stabilised,” Dr Rajkumar said during a press conference upon his return to GPHC with the three additional patients.
He explained that one of these patients had predisposing conditions purported to be pneumonia since the child complained of a cough and slight fever prior to the fire that was only exacerbated by the subsequent smoke inhalation.
Dr Rajkumar added that the children affected by the fire are also experiencing elements of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“These kids are in a state of shock right now. And it has been a very challenging night and day for them,” he said, adding the need for them to receive counselling.
Meanwhile, the GPHC doctor commended the staff of the Mahdia District Hospital for their efforts.
“The staff in Mahdia did an amazing job with the resources that they had,” Dr Rajkumar said. “All staff came on board, all hands-on deck, all doctors, nurses, medics, everyone pitched in. And I think they did quite an amazing job to get these kids here.”

Every conceivable help
President Ali was present at the Ogle airport to receive the first six victims who were to be transported to GPHC.
Later, he joined Prime Minister Mark Phillips, Home Affairs Minister Robeson Benn; Education Minister Priya Manickchand and Amerindian Affairs Minister Pauline Sukhai to assess the site of the fire and offer condolence to the affected students and families. Travelling with the President also were Head of the Guyana Defence Force, Brigadier Omar Khan and Police Commissioner, Clifton Hicken along with National Security Advisor Gerry Gouveia.
During a press conference, Ali assured family members that the Government will ensure every step is taken to assist them following this tragedy.
“Every conceivable help, every conceivable assistance, every conceivable action that is required of the Government, we will do, we will support and we will ensure that we are with you not only this day but through this difficult time,” Ali said.

DNA analysis
Due to the severity of the deaths, DNA analysis is needed to identify the 13 female victims who perished at the dormitory. The Government of Guyana has already sought the needed support from regional and international partners and is optimistic that by the end of the day, that support will be received to bring closure to the families.
President Ali said that he has received many messages from leaders across Caricom and from international partners, who convey the love and prayers of their Governments and people.
Several organisations also offered words of support and resources to students and their families.
The Civil Defence Commission (CDC), Central Islamic Organisation (CIORG), Comfort Sleep, Red Cross and United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) donated items such as mattresses, food, sanitary supplies and clothing.
The University of Guyana also deployed specialist teams to aid in the aftermath of the fire and their Mental Health Task Force is developing an emergency mental plan that will also seek to support first responders.