The disaster, of undetermined origin, surprised the victims during their sleep. A fire caused the deaths of 26 students and two teachers from a Koranic school near Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, on the night of Tuesday 17 to Wednesday 18 September, the presidency said.

Relief "told the president that there were 28 casualties," Solo Kelgbeh, a spokesman for President George Weah, told AFP on Wednesday morning in Paynesville, suburb of Monrovia. "They are between 10 and 20. There were only two adults, two teachers," he said.

Relatives who came looking for news of their children were crowding Wednesday morning around the yellow-and-green walk-in building that houses a school and a boarding school and whose sheet metal roof was burned, an AFP correspondent said.

"Trying moment"

The children were sleeping when the disaster occurred, told AFP Amadou Sherrif, an official of the Peul community in which the drama took place, according to him.

He said he was called on the spot at night and counted 37 children killed, and two survivors. But this assessment has not been confirmed elsewhere.

"I address my prayers to the families of the children who died last night in Paynesville in the fire that ravaged their school," the Liberian president tweeted. "This is a trying time for the families of the victims and for all of Liberia," he added.

With AFP