BAGHDAD – At least 82 people have been killed in a fire that swept through a Baghdad hospital where Covid-19 patients were being treated, Iraqi officials said on Sunday.
Ali al-Bayati, spokesman for the semi-official Iraqi Human Rights Commission, said 110 other people were injured in the fire at Ibn al-Khatib hospital.
He had previously tweeted that at least 28 of the patients killed were on ventilators as they battled severe symptoms of Covid-19.
Confirming the number of dead and injured in an interview with state media, Khalid al-Muhanna, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said the fire was caused by the explosion of a oxygen tank, Reuters reported.
“We urgently need to review security measures in all hospitals to prevent such a painful incident from happening in the future,” he said.
The Civil Defense Directorate, responsible for fighting the blaze, said in a statement that witnesses said the explosion of the cylinder started the blaze.
The statement said 90 patients were rescued through windows and external emergency stairs, adding that the fire was confined to the second floor of the hospital, where it allegedly started.
There was no fire safety system at the hospital and the secondary cork ceiling helped spread the fire, 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 his brother was safe, he saw people jumping out of windows to escape, he said.
“The medics fell on the cars. Everyone was jumping,” he said, adding that he had helped other people escape.
Dr Sabah al-Kuzaie, who was also at the scene, told The Associated Press that there were “so many burned bodies everywhere”.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi tweeted Sunday that an investigation will be conducted and those responsible will be held accountable.
The country has announced a three-day national mourning period for the victims.
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The UN Special Representative in Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, expressed it “shock and pain“to the enormity of the fire and called for stronger measures to prevent such disasters.
Iraq’s healthcare system, already ruined by decades of sanctions, war and neglect, has been strained during the coronavirus crisis.
Just over a million people have been infected with Covid-19 in Iraq, of which more than 15,000 have died, according to the Ministry of Health.
Khalid Razak reported from Baghdad. Yuliya Talmazan reported from London.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed.