NASSIRIYA (Dispatches) – The death toll from a fire that tore through a coronavirus hospital in southern Iraq rose to 92, health officials said on Tuesday.
Twelve people - patients and visitors to the hospital - were still missing, two health sources said, suggesting the toll from Monday night’s fire in Nassirya could climb higher still.
More than 100 others were injured in the blaze, which an investigation showed began when sparks from faulty wiring spread to an oxygen tank that then exploded, police and civil defense authorities said.
Rescue teams were using a heavy crane to remove the charred and melted remains of the part of the city’s Imam Hussain hospital where COVID-19 patients were being treated, as relatives gathered nearby.
A medic at the hospital, who declined to give his name and whose Monday shift ended a few hours before the fire broke out, said the absence of basic of safety measures meant it was an accident in the making.
“The hospital lacks a fire sprinkler system or even a simple fire alarm,” he told Reuters.
“We complained many times over the past three months that a tragedy could happen any moment from a cigarette stub but every time we get the same answer from health officials: ‘we don’t have enough money’.”
Local commander Saad Harbiyah said several firefighting teams were battling the blaze. Eyewitnesses said, though, that the fire was so extensive that might not come under control at short notice.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi travelled to Nasiriya to keep abreast of the developments on the ground. He has held an emergency meeting there to address the disaster.
Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi said in a tweet that he would hold a similar meeting on Tuesday to examine the extent of the catastrophe.
The blaze in Nasiriyah is a poignant reminder of a similar conflagration that afflicted the Ibn Khatib hospital in the capital Baghdad earlier this year, killing more than 110 people. The country’s president on Tuesday blamed corruption for both.