Written by By Staff Writer
At least 25 children were killed in Niger when a four-story school that had been evacuated to avoid toxic fumes in the morning re-opened in the afternoon, with teachers having no idea what had happened.
There were also “apparent signs of looting and disregard for human life,” state television reported, after the disaster in the village of Meliane, near the Nigerian border.
About 40 children were initially reported missing, but the death toll has risen to 25.
The privately-run village school, the St. Felicien School, was said to have been evacuated around 10:00 a.m. local time on Tuesday to avoid toxic fumes but teachers returning for the lunchtime session did not know what had happened and the school remained open.
Fire broke out around 1:00 p.m. local time as students at the back of the building were carrying their lunch in an area still cordoned off by security forces, according to witnesses.
It took firefighters more than three hours to reach the school and rush the children to a nearby health center. When the hospital could not cope with the influx, the children were sent to a hospital in Oyo, in the country’s southwest.
Some of the children who died later died of their injuries in the Oyo hospital. Those admitted to the Oyo hospital have received treatment for burns and the doctors said at least eight of the children were in a critical condition.
The Nigerian Red Cross Society said on Tuesday that 48 children were in hospital for treatment.
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology said there was no official report on the death toll.
“There’s no official report but reports have already risen and I understand that over 40 children are still missing,” it said.