At least 19 children have died in a fire in the central Guyana mining town of Mahdia, authorities say.
The fire broke out shortly after midnight Monday, engulfing a high school dormitory and trapping students.
Emergency services are struggling to contain the fire due to bad weather conditions, the government says.
Initial investigations suggest the fire may have been maliciously started, police say, though no suspects have yet been identified.
Previous reports had put the death toll at slightly higher, with at least 20 lives lost.
Several more people were injured and some are being prepared to be evacuated to the capital, Georgetown, where a special center has been set up.
“This is a big disaster. It’s horrible, it’s painful,” Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali said.
AFP quoted Ali as saying that, in addition to the medical teams stationed at the airport, Georgetown’s two main hospitals would be prepared “so that every child who requires care has the best possible chance of receiving that care.”
Home Secretary Robeson Benn is at the disaster site, and the Prime Minister and other government officials are on their way.
“It is with great regret and sorrow that the cabinet is being briefed and updated on a horrific fire in Mahdia’s bedroom. All efforts are being made to have a response backed by a large-scale medical evacuation,” the Department of Affairs said. Government public. Information said in a statement.
Guyana is located between Venezuela and Suriname on the north coast of South America.