NASSIRIYAH: The death toll in a fire that spread through a coronavirus hospital in southern Iraq rose to 66, health officials said on Tuesday, as an angry crowd blaming local authorities for negligence gathered near the city’s morgue, reports Reuters.
More than 100 others were injured in Monday night’s fire in the city of Nassiriyah, which an initial investigation showed began when sparks from faulty wiring spread to an oxygen tank that then exploded, local police and civil defence authorities said.In April, a similar explosion at Baghdad Covid-19 hospital killed at least 82 and injured 110. The head of Iraq’s semi-official Human Rights Commission said Monday’s blast showed how ineffective safety measures in a health system crippled by war and sanctions still were.
“To have such a tragic incident repeated few months later means that still no (sufficient) measures have been taken to prevent them,” Ali Bayati said.
Anger spread among people gathered at Nassiriyah’s morgue as they waited to receive relatives’ bodies.
Relatives gathered in front of the hospital and clashed with police, setting fire to two police vehicles, a Reuters witness said.
“No quick response to the fire, not enough firefighters. Sick people burned to death. It’s a disaster,” said Mohammed Fadhil, who was waiting there to receive his bother’s body.
Two health officials said the dead from Monday’s fire included 21 charred bodies that were still unidentified.The blaze trapped many patients inside the hospital’s coronavirus ward, who rescue teams struggled to reach, a health worker told Reuters on Monday before entering the burning building.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi had ordered the suspension and arrest of health and civil defence managers in Nassiriyah on Monday, as well as the al-Hussain hospital’s manager, his office said.
Already decimated by war and sanctions, Iraq’s healthcare system has struggled to cope with the coronavirus crisis, which has killed 17,592 people and infected more than 1.4 million. “Health crews carried charred bodies out of the burning hospital while many patients were coughing from the rising smoke,” a Reuters reporter at the site of the fire said.
Health officials at Nassiriyah said search operations at the al-Hussain coronavirus hospital were continuing after the fire was brought under control, but thick smoke was making it difficult to enter some of the burnt wards.
“Raging fires have trapped many patients inside the coronavirus ward and rescue teams are struggling to reach them,” a health worker told Reuters before entering the burning building.
Initial police reports suggested that an oxygen tank explosion inside the hospital’s Covid-19 wards was the likely cause of the fire, a policeman at the scene of the fire said.
“I heard a big explosion inside the coronavirus wards and then fire had erupted very quickly,” said Ali Muhsin, a hospital guard who was helping carrying wounded patients away from fires.
Weary of political violence, Iraqis also suffer frequent accidents due to under-investment, corruption and wrecked infrastructure. During the coronavirus crisis, hospitals have struggled with an influx of patients and short supplies.
“Corrupt officials must be held accountable for the fire and killing innocent patients. Where is my father’s body,” said one young man as he searched among charred bodies wrapped in blankets in the hospital’s yard.