At least 23 schoolchildren and others have died in a fire at an Islamic religious school near Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, a fire department official said.
The fire started early Thursday on the top floor of a three-story building that may have been used as a dormitory for the students.
According to a fire department statement, two wardens and 23 students died in the fire. Seven other people were injured and taken to a hospital, with another 11 people rescued, Reuters reported.
The official said the dead bodies were piled on top of each other, suggesting there might have been a stampede as the students tried to escape. Police were still working to confirm the exact number of dead people.
“It really does not make sense for so many to die in the fire,” fire department official Khirudin Drahman told Agence France-Presse.
“I think it is one of the country’s worst fire disasters in the past 20 years,” he added, noting that the government was “now investigating the cause of the fire.”
Malaysian federal territories deputy minister Loga Bala Mohan also told AFP the fire was devastating. “We sympathize with the families. It is one of the worst fires involving so many lives in the capital in recent years,” he said.
“We urgently want the authorities to quickly probe the cause of the deadly fire so that we will be able to prevent future disasters.”
The building is a special Islamic school where students between ages 5 and 18 learn to memorize the Quran, Reuters reported.
The fire department reportedly raised concerns about fire safety in the past at unregulated and private religious schools, the Malay Mail Online reported. More than 200 fires were recorded since 2015 in such schools.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.