Iraq: Fire at coronavirus hospital kills dozens

Published : July 13, 2021 18:14 IST

The fire devastated the al-Hussein Hospital in Nasiriya. Photo: Arshad Mohammed/AA/picture alliance

The blaze in the southern city of Nasiriya has been brought under control. The death toll is expected to rise and the fire may have been caused by an oxygen tank explosion.

A fire at a hospital in the city of Nasiriya 375 kilometers south of Baghdad in Iraq has left at least 64 people dead and more than 100 injured, Iraqi health officials said on July 12. The death toll could rise further, as some patients are still missing. Videos on social media showed the hospital engulfed in flames, with smoke coming out of the top of the building.

What do we know so far?

Iraqi officials said the cause of the blaze at the al-Hussein Teaching Hospital was an electric short circuit. One health official from Dhi Qar province, where Nasiryah is located, said the fire was triggered by an oxygen tank explosion. The hospital's 70-bed coronavirus ward opened just three months ago.

A Facebook post from Iraq's Interior Ministry said the blaze destroyed structures next to the main building of the healthcare facility. The country's Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi convened his cabinet for an emergency meeting on the situation and to discuss the causes of the fire. Iraqis on social media demanded accountability for the blaze and called for the resignation of top officials.

"Sixty-four (bodies) were retrieved and 39 identified and handed over to their families," Iraqi provincial forensic science department a source told AFP news agency. "Medical teams and relatives of victims are finding it difficult to identify the rest of the corpses," said the source.

Iraq's second major hospital fire this year

A fire previously ripped through the Ibn al-Khateeb hospital in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad in April, and left at least 82 people dead. That blaze was sparked by an oxygen tank explosion. That fire led to the Minister for Health at the time Hassan al-Tamimi being suspended and finally resigning.

Corruption, sanctions and war have caused major problems for Iraq's healthcare system. Healthcare facilities are often dilapidated and the country faces a shortage of qualified doctors due to brain drain. Even Iraqi President Barham Salih tweeted that the "catastrophe" at the al-Hussein hospital was as a cause of "persistent corruption and mismanagement that undervalues the lives of Iraqis."

Iraq has seen a surge in coronavirus cases in recent days, with a daily peak of 9,000 new infections last week. The Arab country has also been gripped by protests due to electricity blackouts.

How have Iraqis reacted?

Relatives of the blaze victims continued searching for their family members on the morning of July 13 and many expressed grief and anger through their tears. They blamed the provincial government of Dhi Qar, where the city of Nasiriyah is located, for years of poor management and neglect.

"The whole state system has collapsed, and who paid the price?" asked Haidar al-Askari in an interview with AP News agency. "The people inside here. These people have paid the price," he said at the scene of the tragic hospital fire. Firefighters worked through the night to put out smaller fires in the building and in the morning the bodies were lain outside covered with sheets.

"Corrupt officials must be held accountable for the fire and killing innocent patients. Where is my father's body?" a young man told Reuters news agency in the hospital's yard.

wd/rt (Reuters, AP, dpa)

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