A nighttime fire raced through a dormitory in Guyana early Monday, killing at least 20 students and injuring several others at a boarding school catering to remote, mostly indigenous villages, authorities said.
"This is a horrific incident. It's tragic. It's painful," President Irfaan Ali said, adding that his government was mobilizing all possible resources to care for the children.
The fire broke out shortly after midnight in the dormitory building of a secondary school in the southwestern border town of Mahdia, a gold and diamond mining community about 200 miles (320 kilometers) south of the capital, Georgetown, the government said in a statement.
The fire killed at least 20 students, and injured several others, six of whom were taken to the capital for treatment, the government said.
The school serves mostly indigenous children aged 12 through 18, National Security Adviser Gerald Gouveia said. He said it was too early to speculate what might have caused the fire, adding that heavy thunderstorms in the area posed a challenge to those responding by air.
"It was a battle for us," he said. "The pilots were very brave, very determined."
He added that the government and emergency responders "made a gigantic effort" to save as many people as possible.
Ali said officials were contacting parents and mobilizing psychologists to help deal with those affected by the fire.
"I cannot imagine the pain right now of the parents," he said. "This is a major disaster."
Local newspaper Stabroek News reported that the fire broke out in a girls' dormitory.
Opposition lawmaker Natasha Singh-Lewis called for an in-depth investigation.
"We need to understand how this most horrific and deadly incident occurred and take all necessary measures to prevent such a tragedy from happening again in the future," she said.