Fire kills more than 90 people in Iraq COVID ward, hundreds injured

A fire has torn through a coronavirus hospital ward in southern Iraq, killing 92 people and injuring more than 100.

Authorities are facing accusations of negligence from grieving relatives following the fire, which erupted on Monday night at the al-Hussein Teaching Hospital in Nasiriyah, southern Iraq.

A government investigation found the fire began when sparks from faulty wiring spread to an oxygen tank that then exploded.

Iraq COVID ward fire
Image: The Killid Group

The Prime Minister of Iraq, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, ordered the suspension and arrest of the health director in Dhi Qar province, the hospital director, and the city’s civil defence chief.

He said that the tragedy is a “deep wound in the consciousness of all Iraqis“.

This is the country’s second such disaster in less than three months and has cast a spotlight on what many have criticised as widespread negligence and mismanagement in Iraq’s hospitals, after decades of war-related disasters.

The hospital lacks a fire sprinkler system or even a simple fire alarm,” said a medic at the hospital to 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’.

A similar explosion occurred in April at a Baghdad COVID-19 hospital, killing 82 people and injuring 110.

The head of Iraq’s semi-official Human Rights Commission said Monday’s blast showed how ineffective safety measures still were in a health system crippled by war and sanctions.

To have such a tragic incident repeated a few months later means that still no (sufficient) measures have been taken to prevent them,” said Ali Bayati.

Local defence authority head, Salah Jabbar, said that the fact that the hospital had been built with lightweight panels separating the wards had made the fire spread faster.

A cleaner at the hospital said the ward only had four fire extinguishers and no fire alarm system, and fire trucks ran out of water quickly.

A volunteer of the disaster, Ali Khalid, said he found the bodies of two young girls locked in an embrace.

How terrified they must have been, they died hugging each other,” he said.