Soldiers and rescue workers surround ambulances transporting injured people to Hamdaniyah Hospital in Bakhdida, Iraq, September 27, 2023. ZAID AL-OBEIDI / AFP
The tragedy struck in the middle of the night as hundreds of people celebrated a wedding in a community center in northern Iraq. At least 100 people died and 150 others were injured after a fire broke out in the facility, according to a “preliminary assessment” announced on Wednesday, September 27, by the health authorities of Nineveh province and the Agence France-Presse (AFP) was confirmed by Health Ministry spokesman Saif Al-Badr.
At the main hospital in Hamdaniyah, a small Christian town near Mosul, also known as Qaraqosh, an AFP photographer saw several ambulances arrive with sirens blaring. After midnight on Wednesday, according to the same source, dozens of people gathered in the courtyard of the facility, relatives of victims or local residents who came to donate their blood.
According to the photographer, residents also gathered in front of the open doors of a refrigerated truck loaded with several black body bags. “Most of the injured suffer burns and suffocation,” said Mr. Al-Badr, who also reported stampedes.
“We couldn’t see anything, we were suffocating”
Regarding the operation at the community center, where rescue workers extinguished the fire, Civil Defense reported the presence of prefabricated panels that were “highly flammable and violated safety standards.”
“Preliminary information suggests that fireworks were used at a wedding, which caused a fire in the room,” the Civil Defense press release said. The flames, according to the same source, caused “parts of the ceiling to collapse due to the use of highly flammable and inexpensive construction materials.” The danger is exacerbated “by the emission of toxic gases when burning plastic panels.”
17-year-old Rania Waad suffers from a burn on her hand and is being treated by her sister at Hamdaniyah Hospital. The bride and groom “danced slowly, the fireworks began to rise to the ceiling, the whole room burst into flames,” said the teenager in a sobbing voice, adding that the guests were “very numerous.” “We couldn’t see, we were suffocating, we didn’t know how to get out.”
Among the ruins of the community center, the AFP photographer could see rescuers and police officers inspecting the site by the light of torches and cellphones, where iron chairs were stacked amid the rubble beneath the scrap metal hanging from the ceiling.
Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers Mohammed Chia Al-Soudani, Iraqi Prime Minister: “We are determined to expand bilateral relations between Iraq and France”
Aid truck from Baghdad
In a succinct statement, Prime Minister Mohammed Chia Al-Soudani called on the health and interior ministers to “mobilize all rescue efforts” to help the victims of the tragedy. For its part, the Ministry of Health announced the “dispatch of trucks with medical assistance” from Baghdad, 400 km south, and other provinces in the country, to ensure that its teams would be mobilized from Nineveh to “treat the wounded.”
The world application
The morning of the world
Every morning, discover our selection of 20 items not to be missed
Download the app
In Iraq, safety standards are poorly adhered to, be it in the construction or transport sectors. The country, whose infrastructure is in poor condition after decades of conflict, is regularly the scene of fires or fatal domestic accidents. In July 2021, a fire in the Covid ward of a hospital in southern Iraq killed more than 60 people. A few months earlier, in April, the explosion of oxygen cylinders in a Covid hospital in Baghdad caused a fire and left more than 80 dead.
Also read: Iraq: Baghdad hospital fire kills 82, health minister suspended