Liberia: Lament, Sorrow & Tragedy After Fire Claims Lives of 28


Monrovia – Ousmane E. Jalloh, who lost his brother in the early morning fire that killed 28 persons Wednesday, September 18, was still in shock trying to get over the tragedy at the Bassa Town Quranic Recitation Center located in Paynesville City.

Report by Augustine T. Tweh, [email protected] and Willie N. Tokpah, [email protected]

“As a Muslim, we believed in the appreciation of Allah; so, I really thank the Almighty God. But I can’t really speak on what happened here today. My mind is not on the information but how I lost my brother,” Jalloh lamented to FrontPageAfrica.

Among the 28 dead was a teacher and a caretaker, who perished along with 26 students who found themselves trapped in the burning building after they were awoken by the blaze.

Mr. Henry Williams, Head of the National Disaster Agency, said the victims were between the ages of 10 and 20 years. “We don’t have any idea about the disaster now. We don’t have any evidence of what the cause is but what we can say presently, we have 26 that are already dead and all the 26 are all male, only two instructors and the rest are students between the ages of 10 and 20 years.”

The students from the all-male school dormitory lost their lives as the Liberia National Police and the National Disaster Management Agency are still trying to piece together how the fire started.

Paynesville Mayor E. Pam Belcher-Taylor and team upon receiving the information rushed on the scene of the incident to sympathize with the bereaved families and the Islamic Community.

The tragic fire accident drew a scene of sorrow, empathy and mourning among residents of the community, especially the Muslim communities as well as sympathizers, onlookers and relatives of the victims.

Mr. James T. Howard, Chairman of the Bassa Town Community, told FPA that four persons were rescued and rushed to the JFK to seek medical attention.

Mr. Howard explained that about 1:00 AM, residents in the community began hearing screams but were unsure why. “We thought it was armed robbers because robbers have been disturbing us these few days and we were afraid to come outside at that period,”

It was not until later; Howard explained that members of the community got to know that it was a fire. “So, we all came out and tried to break into the building, but there was no way. However, we forced the door to open and two persons, the Iman and his wife came out and two others passed through the window. But the smoke overtook the entire building and there was no way to go for the other children”

Chairman Howard further explained that one of the two survivors narrated that they were asleep when one of the students woke up and started pounding the door to call their attention to the fire outbreak.

Explaining the ordeal of one of the survivors, Chairman Howard narrated. “One lady came outside with a baby but while going back inside the building to wake up the others, she managed to escape the fire. The other teacher who was also inside the building was crying, asking for help to no avail. The lady could not tell exactly the total number of children but he said there were about 30 students in the building along with some teachers.”

While the cause of the incident has not been established but some community dwellers attributed the tragic accident to electrical fault.

Sheikh Omaru Kamara, Chair of the Muslim Council of Liberia, expressed regret over the tragic death of 28 persons and added that the situation has created sorrow in the minds of every Liberian especially the Muslim Community.

Said Sheikh Kamara: “We as Muslims must continue to pray for them and their family. We will have to go through series of prayers for this country, because you know there was another situation that occurred in Nimba County with the landslide and again this one. It is painful.”

The clergyman lamented that those who lost their lives would have been the future leaders of the country, as he lamented: “Allah knows His reason for doing this, and we believe that they will be received by the Almighty Allah”.

President George Manneh Weah, who toured the scene of the tragedy in the aftermath of the blaze, expressed regrets, describing the losses as a ‘sad day’ for the Muslim Community and Liberia at large.

President Weah then pledged that his government will take the initiative to rebuild the school. “Not more we can say, we encourage them to have strength, because it’s a different situation that is a disaster, it’s painful and it’s hurtful and not much we can say but to extend our sympathy to the bereaved families”

The President also promised to ensure that authorities get to the bottom of the fire. “We will encourage our intelligence to find out what happened, and I think the most important thing is to sympathize with them. To die in a fire is not an easy thing but  we want to let the families know that we are with them, our government sympathized with them and we will do all our best to make sure that we establish what happened and whatever assistance the government can render, we will be there”.

The President, however, urged residents of the community to guard their surroundings to avoid the repeat of such incident. “We don’t know what happened and so we must just continue to be mindful of our environment and make sure that when these things are happening, we have people around to guard especially the young kids. Because I’m sure when we had people with experience in fire, for the first time they could help.” He added.

Rep. Thomas P. Fallah in whose electoral District #5 the incident occurred, assured residents of the community that a thorough investigation will be launched to establish what led to the fire. “Further investigation needs to be carried on by ministries and agencies that are responsible for such disaster as it relates to what happened and how it happened. And subsequently we will make that (investigation) public. We highly regret the situation, they should take heart, take courage, it has happened. The situation is beyond all of us control but we urged to keep courage, and be strong in faith,” said Rep. Fallah.

Muslim Graveyard

At the Muslim Graveyard between Chugbor and Gaye Town, Old Road Community, the President, the Guinean Ambassador to Liberia and Doyen of the Diplomatic Corps, Ambassador Alhaji Abdulaye Doré, some members of the ECOWAS Parliamentarians, Representative Edwin Melvin Snowe and Senator Prince Y. Johnson, were at the grave to finally see the kids being buried.

Also, hundreds of Liberian Muslims and others turned out, too, at the grave, which is commonly referred to as “Mandingo Graveyard” to see the kids get their final resting places.

There was wailing from the male relatives of the children as no woman, by the Islamic religious order, is allowed to be at the place of burial.

The chief Imam, who led the burial of the 28 persons, including 26 kids and two adults, offered prayer for the dead. He willed the death of the dead to Allah.

President Weah and the other guests only watched as the Muslims carried and dropped the dead one each in the holes.