How 20 Children Died In Niger School Inferno – Witnesses
A total of 20 pre-school children – aged between three and five years – lost their lives to a horrific fire that broke out at a school in the Republic of Niger.
The incident which occurred on Tuesday in an impoverished area on the outskirts of Niamey, the country’s capital has left dozens of parents and teachers with uncontrollable tears and agony.
The victims perished when the fire tore through the classrooms made of wood and straw, witnesses said.
“The little children, innocents, were really burned alive in this fire,” the school’s director Habiba Gaya told AFP on Wednesday as she wiped away large tears with her veil.
She lamented that while older children were able to make it out of the burning huts, it was unfortunate that those aged five and below could not.
“They were little, so they weren’t able to run,” Gaya added, saying all of Niger was in total mourning.
The tragedy took place in the poor “Pays-Bas” neighbourhood that was built in a former clay quarry near Niamey airport.
Although the cause of the fire has yet to be determined, security forces have blocked off the scene as investigators searched for evidence.
‘Answering The Call Of Death’
Residents, some with their heads in their hands, gathered in anguish behind police tape to look over what was left of the school buildings.
From the view, only the remains of desks and corrugated metal sheets were still visible among the debris, with charred books, pencil cases, and backpacks scattered among the ashes.
“The flames were carried from classroom to classroom by the wind,” said Balaraba Ibrahim, an aunt to five-year-old Yasmina who was among those who perished in the flames.
Ibrahim who lives nearby said Yasmina had come home and then she went back to school.
“It’s almost as if she was answering the call of death,” Ibrahim said as she broke down in tears.
The mother of another victim, seated in the courtyard near other more solidly built classrooms that escaped damage, struggled to accept her loss.
“Allah wanted this to happen and there is nothing we can do about it,” she said, clutching prayer beads.
The Fire Service Commander in Niger, Sidi Mohamed, also confirmed that around 20 children were trapped in the blaze.
He noted that rescuers set off rapidly and the fire was put out, but the intensity of the fire was enormous.
Niger, which ranks as the poorest country in the world under the UN’s 189-nation Human Development Index, often resorts to putting classrooms in makeshift huts where children sometimes sit on the floor.