A fire that broke out at a school in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur killed at least 21 students, who were aged between 13 and 17 years old, officials said.
The blaze, which broke out at a religious school in the early hours of Thursday, also left two adults dead. When emergency responders first arrived on the scene, "almost 90% of the building was already on fire," fire department official Soiman Jahid told reporters
"The firemen could hear crises for help from inside the building," he said. "The first team from ... fire station managed to save five of the children from the lower level."
Jahid said firefighters found bodies in three different locations, all of them badly burned. A large number of bodies were piled on top of each other, while another was found in front of the main door.
"Based on my observation, the building has grills that could not be opened from inside," he said. "Because of the grills, they could not escape through the windows, except for the five students who escaped through the door and sought help from the firemen."
Photos from the scene showed fire damage to the top floor of the three-story Tahfiz Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah school. Emergency services were still at the scene mid-morning local time.
Malaysia's Minister of Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government, Noh Omar, said there have been 29 similar incidents in the past involving fires at religious schools.
The school's license was being reviewed by the authorities and it should not have been in operation, Noh told reporters.
Six students and a member of the public were injured in the incident, Malaysia's official Bernama news agency reported.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak expressed his sympathy for those affected on social media.
"It's sad to read Tahfiz Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah Center burned & killed more than 20 lives. May the blessed soul of Allah SWT. Al Fatihah," he wrote on Twitter.
Malaysian media earlier reported that 25 people were killed, 23 students and two wardens.