More than two dozen people, mostly children, have died in a fire that engulfed a religious boarding school outside Liberia's capital in the middle of the night, authorities said.
An Islamic school on the outskirts of Monrovia caught fire late Tuesday night, around 11 p.m. local time, while students and faculty were asleep inside. Fierce flames swept the main entrance of the building, leaving many people trapped, according to the Liberia National Police spokesman Moses Carter.
At least 26 children and one teacher were killed. Two other children were the only students to escape the blaze, Carter said.
The inspector general of the Liberia National Police, Patrick Sudue, described the disaster as "one of the worst in decades" to occur in the West African nation.
The remains of the victims have been handed over to the families for burial. The cause of the fire remains under investigation, according to Carter.
Liberian President George Weah declared Thursday a national day of mourning in remembrance of those who died. He visited the scene of the blaze in the suburb of Paynesville on Wednesday and later attended a funeral for the victims at a mosque in Monrovia.
“This is an extremely difficult moment, not only for the bereaved family but also for us all as a country,” Weah said in a statement. “We must be united in good times as well as in difficult times.”