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16 Apr 2008 07:10
Sobbing Ugandan parents sifted through the ashes of a school dormitory on Tuesday, trying in vain to identify their daughters from the piles of charred piles left by a fire that broke out overnight.
Police said that the fire killed at least 19 schoolgirls and two adults and may have been set deliberately.
“Preliminary investigations indicate that it was homicide,” police Inspector General Kale Kaihura told reporters at the scene on Tuesday.
Nine-year-old Margaret Atim said she woke up after hearing a bang. “I saw fire on one side of the dormitory and I jumped out through the window.”
She also said she heard students crying and screaming and sounds like gunfire, but billowing smoke and tears in her eyes prevented her from seeing what was happening, she said.
Parents at the site mourned their children.
“Help me, oh God please help me,” wailed Jacqueline Bakoba as she lifted up part of the collapsed roof looking for her missing daughter, Betty.
By the time the fire brigade reached the school, most of the girl’s dormitory had already burned down and part of the roof and inner walls had collapsed.
The fire burned away almost all the mattresses and children’s clothing and the heat warped the metal bed frames.
Kaihura said interviews with teachers and survivors led him to believe the fire had been started deliberately.
Teacher Frederick Bugmbe said there were 58 girls in the dormitory, but some managed to wriggle through narrow windows.
Hundreds of parents arrived at the school, which has about 1 000 students, to search for their children.
Police, while saying 21 people had died, were still searching the site for more bodies.
Lydia Namusisi (14), who sleeps in a nearby dormitory, said she was woken late on Monday by a loud bang. When the girls tumbled out of bed, they found the dormitory next door blazing.
School worker James Kiiza said the doors had been locked from the outside. He said there was no electricity at the time of the fire, but that the school does not permit the use of candles.
Sylvia Nakatte said she received a phone call to tell her that her daughter, Mary (12), had died. “I rushed to the school but her body cannot be identified,” she said, weeping and clawing at the sodden ashes.—Sapa-AP
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