Nairobi (CNSNews.com) - Kenya was plunged into a state of shock and mourning Monday as news spread of the death of 58 schoolboys, burnt beyond recognition when a blaze gutted their boarding school dormitory overnight.
Arson was the suspected cause of what police described as the worst such incident in recent memory. There were no early indications who may have been responsible.
Twenty-eight other pupils at the Kyanguli Secondary School, about 150 kms east of Nairobi, sustained serious burns - more than 80 percent in most cases - and were being treated in several hospitals.
The youths who died were aged between 14 and 20. Most apparently succumbed as they struggled to escape from the burning building. Many bodies were found in narrow corridors leading to the single exit, and were found to be clutching each other. The dormitory accommodated some 130 pupils.
Initial police investigations revealed that the dormitory had caught fire at about 1 a.m., after a strong smell of petrol was noticed.
One of the survivors, Eric Kimeu, said it took him a long time to get out of blazing building.
"I was woken by heat and then noticed everybody was scrambling for the single door," Kimeu said. "It took me a long time to get out because all the windows had wire mesh and the other door was locked with a padlock, from the outside.
"I finally managed to jump through the ventilation and fell onto someone who was burning," he said. "That is how I sustained the burn on my hand."
Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi, who visited the scene, blamed the school administration for cramming the pupils into congested dormitories and not preparing for emergencies.
He vowed that there would be an in-depth investigation into the tragedy.
"This happened due to lawlessness or some unknown motive," Moi said. "There are many disasters that have happened in this country but for this to have happened to students is very unfortunate. This is a ghastly incident ...
"It is terrible. It should not have been allowed that way ... These children could have escaped easily," he said.
Weeping relatives stood around near the blackened, single-story brick building as officials picked through the charred wreckage of wooden furniture searching for clues to the cause of the blaze.
"It is sad and pathetic. I feel so bad," said one local.
At Nairobi''s Kenyatta Hospital, reporters saw two badly-burned survivors wrapped in protective gauze and attached to drips being rushed into the casualty department. A total of seven injured boys were admitted there.
"We are doing the best we can," said Dr. Tabu Simiyu, adding that the boys had burns on up to 90 per cent of their bodies. "In such cases the prognosis is usually bad."
Like a number of other public institutions, most schools in cash-strapped Kenya do not have fire-fighting equipment.