Indigenous Indians in Chenapau demand compensation for lives lost, injuries in Mahdia fire; Opposition wants Independence Day activities cancelled

Last Updated on Monday, 22 May 2023, 11:32 by Denis Chabrol

Indigenous Amerindians in Chenapau Village on Monday morning demanded compensation from the government for the fiery death of 19 students of the Mahdia Secondary School students.

“We need compensation,” “We need justice”, were among the chants and slogans on placards.

Meanwhile, the opposition A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) called on government to cancel all 57th Independence Day celebrations on May 26. “In light of this tragedy, we wish to call on all to make this Independence Day a Day of Mourning in solidarity and support with the families, friends, relatives, the citizens of Mahdia and Region #8 and all Guyanese and a Day of Support to the injured, their families, friends, relatives and the people of Region 8,” the Opposition Leader’s Office said.  Government plans to take the National Flag Raising Ceremony to Lethem.

Hours after the fire that injured 11 others, at least 60 men, women and chanted outside the Chenapau Primary School, the institution that many of the Mahdia Secondary School students once attended.

Amerindian rights activist Michael Mc Garrell appealed for help and attention to the surviving families, relatives and other loved ones in remote communities from which the dead and injured hail. “As they mourn the loss of several students from the village in the fire which occurred last night at the Mahdia Secondary School’s dormitory, residents of Chenapau are calling for justice,” he said.

Eleven other students have been seriously injured, with six of them air-dashed to hospital for specialised treatment and care, and five others admitted to the Mahdia Hospital.

Mahdia Secondary School students hospitalised in Mahdia

Mr Mc Garrell, whose two relatives died and three others hospitalised, also expressed concern that the dormitory was heavily grilled. “Why are school children grilled up in death traps??,” he said.

The Guyana Fire Service said fire fighters were forced to break holes in the concrete walls to rescue 44 of the 63 students who were in the dormitory at the time. “Firefighters did manage to rescue some 20 students by breaking holes in the north-eastern wall of the building,” the Guyana Fire Service said.

It is unclear why the Guyana Fire Service was notified 25 minutes after the fire, according to a student who escaped, started after she saw the fire at about 10:50 Sunday night in the bathroom area.

The Guyana Fire Service said it was trying to determine the cause of the fire.

Mc Garrell appealed to President Irfaan Ali to assist the bereaved. “I hope none other than President Alli make a visit to the location tomorrow to try bring some comfort the the grieving relatives,” he said.

Prime Minister Mark Phillips, Education Minister Priya Manickchand and Home Affairs Minister Robeson Benn comforting grieving persons at the Mahdia Hospital

APNU+AFC urged government to conduct a thorough probe into the tragedy that has sent shockwaves countrywide. “We will continue to keep the situation under review and will make a full statement at a later time as we demand a thorough investigation into this horrific incident that has resulted in the loss of innocent young lives,” the coalition said.

The opposition thanked the medical team and others who are engaged in the process of treating and helping the injured and hope there are no more fatalities.  “Special appreciation and thanks to our brave pilots and the Joint Services who played and continue to play a key role in the entire operation,” APNU+AFC said.  The opposition coalition also expressed gratitude to the people of Mahdia who worked assiduously to rescue the children trapped in the Mahdia Secondary School dormitory. “Our gratitude is also extended to our Regional Member of Parliament, the Mayor and Deputy Mayor for their compassion and positive involvement in helping to give leadership during these trying times.”