At least 52 people are killed during a fire at the coronavirus isolation ward of a hospital in Iraq, the second such deadly blaze during a COVID-19 unit in three months.
The fire broke out at the Al-Hussein hospital within the southern city of Nasiriya late on Monday and was brought in check by civil defense teams.
A medical source with the health directorate told the AFP press agency the “main reason behind the fire… was the explosion of oxygen tanks”.
Haydar al-Zamili, the local health authority’s spokesperson, said early Tuesday that 52 bodies had been retrieved while 22 people had been hurt after the hearth had “ripped through the Covid isolation ward”.
“The victims died of burns and therefore the search is constant,” he added, noting that there have been fears people could still be trapped inside the building.
The ward had 70 beds.
Health sources told Reuters press agency the price could rise as many patients were still missing. Two doctors were among the dead, they said.
Health officials at Nasiriya said search operations at the hospital were continuing, but that thick smoke was making it difficult to enter a number of the burnt-out wards.
Footage shared online showed thick clouds of smoke billowing from the hospital buildings.
Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from Baghdad, said relations and city residents had rushed to the scene.
“Many people have taken to the streets in Nasiriya and ahead of the hospital,” said Abdelwahed, who said that the manager of the hospital had resigned.
Angry relatives clashed with police, setting fire to 2 police vehicles, a Reuters witness said.
“Corrupt officials must be held in charge of the hearth and killing innocent patients. Where is my father’s body,” said one young man as he searched among charred bodies wrapped in blankets within the hospital’s courtyard.
At least 42 people have been killed and more than 60 injured in a fire at a coronavirus hospital in Iraq's southern city of Nassiriya. https://t.co/AdrrnR644c
— SBS News (@SBSNews) July 12, 2021
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi also declared a state of emergency within the governorate of Dhi Qar, where Nasiriya is found, Abdelwahed reported.
In a tweet, al-Kadhimi said that his office was holding an emergency meeting to debate “the causes and repercussions” of the incident.
Earlier on Monday, a minor fire broke out at the health ministry’s headquarters in Baghdad, but it had been quickly contained and no fatalities were recorded.
The blaze at the Nasiriya hospital is that the second such tragedy this year.
In April, a fireplace at a Baghdad COVID-19 hospital sparked by the explosion of badly stored oxygen cylinders killed 82 people and injured 110 others.
Many of the victims were on respirators being treated for COVID-19 and were burned or suffocated within the resulting inferno that spread rapidly through the hospital, where dozens of relatives were visiting patients within the medical care unit.
The then-health minister, Hassan al-Tamimi, resigned.
Iraq has recorded quite 1.4 million coronavirus cases and quite 17,000 deaths.