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Inquiry as fire leaves 90 dead

India

The Tamil Nadu government has ordered an inquiry into last week's fire at a private elementary school in Kumbakonam which left 90 children dead and 23 seriously hurt.

The fire broke out in the kitchens at Sri Krishna high school but spread rapidly as most classrooms had thatched roofs.

Pupils as young as five were left with no escape because classroom roofs collapsed and the school's narrow main gate was locked.

Tamil Nadu chief minister, Ms Jayalalitha, ordered the arrest of the school owner and its principal and suspended the chief education officer and his senior staff. She also ordered the cancellation of the school's licence and asked officials to ensure that no school in the state had thatched roofs.

Mr J Radhakrishnan, deputy administrator of the Thanjavur district, said most children who died could not be identified as their bodies had been so badly charred. He said the government would ensure that the pupils who survived would be admitted to other schools free of charge.

Extra doctors have been sent to the local hospital and provision made for counselling services to help distraught families.

As an official inquiry gets under way, many are questioning the role of the 23 teachers who fled, leaving 900 students to their fate. One surviving pupil said: "When I saw the fire, I called the teachers but no one was there."

No teacher was injured in the accident. After the fire staff stayed in hiding for two days, with some later emerging to protest their innocence.

The school is a telling example of the state of elementary education. Sri Krishna high had government recognition and funding but consisted of a cramped three-storey building with small classrooms, often with 200 pupils in each. There were no fire extinguishers, no emergency exits and one small main gate.

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