A fire caused by an electrical fault caused the death of at least 26 young students, including "several Guineans", of a Koranic school (Muslim theological university) in the suburbs of the Liberian capital, Monrovia, the worst a disaster of its kind that has been going on for years in this small, poor country in West Africa.
The boys were caught in flames on Tuesday night in the dormitory attached to the Paynesville Mosque and school, where they were studying the Koran during the day, the Liberian police spokesman said. , Moses Carter.
The incident was declared near the only access door to their dormitory and "they were trapped," he said on the phone to AFP.
President George Weah's spokesman, who visited the confused scene in the morning, reported 28 deaths: 26 youth aged 10 to 20 and two teachers. The police spokesman spoke of 27 students killed and two children rescued.
In the evening, the president of neighboring Guinea, Alpha Condé, said in a statement of his "strong emotion" after the fire "which killed the lives of at least 28 people, including many Guineans.
Without specifying the number of Guinean victims, Condé expressed his "deepest condolences to the Liberian people, to the Guinean community of Liberia and to the entire nation," saying he was "closely following the evolution of the investigations carried out by the Liberian government to determine the origins of the incident. "
The Guinean Ministry of Foreign Affairs is expected to hold a press conference "in the coming hours," Conakry was told in the evening.
"Our team is investigating the causes of the fire," said the spokesman for the Liberian police. "It could be an electrical problem," he added, while refusing to exclude a criminal source until the investigators made their findings.
"We were sleeping when we heard noise outside," said a neighbor, Zayzay Ballah. "I thought of thieves because we already had armed thieves here. When my wife opened the back door, we saw a lot of smoke. They went to fetch water to try to extinguish the flames until late at night.
The children were surprised during their sleep, told AFP Amadou Sherrif, an official of the Fulani community in which the drama took place according to him.
Another witness, Wilfried Kaine, says he asked, "Are the children in there?" "I said," Oh my God, let's go save those kids, these people are dying in there. ". When we passed the back door, we heard (children) screaming, clinging to the bars of the windows and saying, "We are dying, we are dying".
In the morning, a large crowd, relatives who came looking for news, people who came to show their sympathy or the curious, huddled around the yellow and green building with blackened openings and the roof in sheet metal, reported a correspondent from AFP.
At the same moment, the helpers, their mouths covered by a surgical mask, led the gruesome operation of extracting the bodies from the rubbish in large bags, hurting their way through the crowd with difficulty to hoist the remains on a pick- up.
The Liberian president went on the spot. "We are here to encourage victims' parents to have strength because it is painful to lose children in this way. Our compassion goes to bereaved families, "George Weah told reporters. "We do not know yet the causes of the fire but we will push our investigators to find out how it happened."
The Liberian police are familiar with deadly fires, caused by faulty generators for example, said its spokesman, "but not of this size". The children were buried without delay, according to Muslim tradition, in a collective ceremony.
The vast majority of Liberians are Christians, but the population of about 4.5 million has a significant share of Muslims.
Liberia, one of the least developed countries in the world, has been severely affected in recent history by civil wars, but also the Ebola virus.