Schoolchildren die in India blaze

KUMBAKONAM, India – Flames swept through a thatch-roofed school Friday, trapping dozens of children who clawed at brick and concrete in vain to escape after many of their teachers fled. At least 84 children were killed and 22 injured.

For the burned children, advanced medical care was a five- to six-hour drive away, and some died waiting for treatment at the hospital in this southern Indian river town. Police, blaming officials at the private school for negligence, arrested the principal.

No teachers died, and a senior fire officer said it was because they abandoned the children and ran from the burning school. But the district government administrator said it was too early to know, noting that about 700 children got out alive – probably helped by teachers.

More than 30 children survived with burn injuries, but many of them died awaiting treatment in the local government hospital, screaming in pain or lying unconscious in an emergency ward.

Doctors applied ointment to scalded bodies. Nurses placed large banana leaves – believed to be soothing – on the children’s wounds. Parents, many crying, waved bamboo and plastic fans despite the air conditioning to cool inflamed skin. Hundreds more adults waited outside.

The fire started in a kitchen and jumped across the flammable roofs of the three-story school in Kumbakonam, a temple town in a fertile rice farming delta about 200 miles southwest of the southern city of Madras.

The Lord Krishna Middle School, with students aged 6-13, had just resumed classes in early July after recess during May and June, India’s hottest months.

Associated Press

Police officers and residents look at the burned-out remains of a school Friday in Kumbakonam, India.

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