When emergency responders first arrived on the scene, “almost 90% of the building was already on fire,” a Fire and Rescue department official told reporters. Two adults also died in the blaze.
“The firemen could hear cries for help from inside the building,” spokesman Soiman Jahid said. “The first team from (the) fire station managed to save five of the children from the lower level.”
Jahid said firefighters found bodies in three different locations, all of them badly burned. A large number of victims found were piled on top of each other, while another was discovered in front of the main door.
“Based on my observation, the building has grills that could not be opened from inside,” he said. “Because of the grills, they could not escape through the windows, except for the five students who escaped through the door and sought help from the firemen.”
Photos from the scene showed fire damage to the top floor of the three-story Tahfiz Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah school. Emergency services were still at the scene mid-morning local time.
Norhayati Khalid talked to CNN on her way to hospital to identify the body believed to be her son, 11-year-old Amin Ashraf.
She said she’d last seen Amin on Wednesday afternoon when she’d given him some food and drink and he’d passed her a note to say he loved her and his siblings.
School should not have been in operation
Malaysia’s Minister of Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government, Noh Omar, said there have been 29 similar incidents in the past involving fires at religious schools.
The school’s license was being reviewed by the authorities and it should not have been in operation, Noh told reporters.
Six students and a member of the public were injured in the incident, Malaysia’s official Bernama news agency reported.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak expressed his sympathy for those affected on social media.
“Deeply saddened to hear Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah Tahfiz Center burned and that more than 20 lives were lost. May their souls be blessed by Allah SWT. Al Fatihah,” he wrote on Twitter.
Malaysian media earlier reported that 25 people were killed, 23 students and two wardens.