Dozens killed as huge fire sweeps through Baghdad hospital for Covid-19 patients

BAGHDAD — At least 82 people were killed as a fire swept through a hospital in Baghdad, where Covid-19 patients were being treated, officials in Iraq said Sunday.

Ali al-Bayati, a spokesman for Iraq’s semi-official Human Rights Commission, told NBC News that a further 110 people had been injured in the blaze at the Iraqi capital’s Ibn al-Khatib hospital.

He had earlier tweeted that at least 28 patients of those killed were on ventilators as they battled severe Covid-19 symptoms.

Confirming the number of dead and injured in an interview with state media, Khalid al-Muhanna, a spokesman for Iraq’s interior ministry, said the fire had been caused by an exploding oxygen tank, according to Reuters.

“We urgently need to review safety measures at all hospitals to prevent such a painful incident from happening in future,” he said.

The Civil Defense Directorate, which was tasked with fighting the fire, said in a statement that eyewitnesses had told them that the exploding cylinder had started the blaze.

The statement said that 90 patients were rescued through windows and external emergency stairs, adding that the fire was contained to the hospital’s second floor where it was believed to have started.

People and medical staff members walk at Ibn Khatib hospital after a fire caused by an oxygen tank explosion in Baghdad, Iraq, on Sunday.Thaier al-Sudani / Reuters

There was no fire safety system in the hospital, and the secondary ceiling made from cork helped the fire spread, the statement said.

Ahmed Zaki, who was visiting his brother when the blaze started told Reuters that “it spread like fuel” was burning. After making sure he brother was safe he said people were jumping out of windows to escape.

“Doctors fell on the cars. Everyone was jumping,” he said, adding that he helped others to escape.

Dr. Sabah al-Kuzaie, who was also at the scene, told the Associated Press that there were “so many burned bodies all over the place.”

Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi tweeted Sunday that an investigation into the incident will be carried out and those responsible will be held accountable.

The country has announced a three-day national mourning for the victims of the fire.

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The special representative of the United Nations in Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, also expressed her “shock and pain” at the enormity of the fire, before calling for stronger protection measures to prevent such disasters.

Iraq’s healthcare system, already ruined by decades of sanctions, war and neglect, has been stretched during the coronavirus crisis.

The total number of people infected with Covid-19 in Iraq is just over 1 million, including more than 15,000 deaths, according to the country’s health ministry.

Khalid Razak reported from Baghdad and Yuliya Talmazan from London.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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