A fire ripped through the Chinese coronavirus ward of a hospital in Nasiriyah, Iraq, on Monday, killing at least 92 people, Iraq’s state news agency reported Tuesday.
The incident took place at al-Hussein Teaching Hospital in Nasiriyah, the capital of Iraq’s southeastern Dhi Qar Governorate.
“The fire began in a quarantine facility for Covid-19 [Chinese coronavirus] patients attached to the main hospital,” the Wall Street Journal reported, citing local health officials.
“Health crews carried charred bodies out of the burning hospital while many patients were coughing from the rising smoke,” a Reuters journalist at the scene of the fire reported.
“Initial police reports suggested that an oxygen tank explosion inside the hospital’s COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] wards was the likely cause of the fire,” a Nasiriyah policeman told Reuters.
“The ward, opened three months ago, contained 70 beds in three large halls,” according to the Associated Press (AP).
“Maj. Gen. Khalid Bohan, head of Iraq’s civil defense, said the building was constructed from cheap, flammable materials,” the AP reported.
A custodian at al-Hussein Teaching Hospital named Ali Karar told the news agency the facility’s coronavirus ward “had only four fire extinguishers and no fire alarm system.”
Firetrucks deployed to the scene to extinguish the hospital blaze “ran out of water quickly,” he added.
“Angry relatives gathered in front of the hospital and clashed with police, setting fire to two police vehicles,” a witness told Reuters.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi held an emergency meeting late Monday in response to the hospital fire in Nasiriyah. He subsequently ordered the suspension and arrest of the Dhi Qar Governorate health director, al-Hussein Teaching Hospital’s director, and Nasiriyah’s civil defense chief. The Iraqi federal government has since launched an official investigation into the fire.
A parallel incident occurred at a hospital in Baghdad in April after an oxygen tank exploded inside a Chinese coronavirus ward, killing at least 82 people. Iraq’s health minister at the time, Hassan al-Tamimi, resigned shortly after the fire at Ibn al-Khatib Hospital, which is located in one of Baghdad’s poorest districts. Ibn al-Khatib Hospital “did not have smoke detectors, sprinkler systems, or even fire hoses,” at the time of the April fire, Breitbart News reported. The ceilings at Ibn al-Khatib hospital’s coronavirus ward were reportedly constructed from flammable material, echoing the dangerous conditions at al-Hussein Teaching Hospital.