NASSIRIYA, Iraq – The death toll in a fire that ravaged a coronavirus hospital in southern Iraq has risen to 92, health officials said on Tuesday, as authorities were accused of negligence on the part of grieving parents and a doctor who works there.
More than 100 people were injured in Monday night’s fire in Nassiriya, officials said.
An investigation showed the blaze started when sparks from faulty wiring spread to an oxygen tank which then exploded, police and civil defense officials said.
It was the second such tragedy in Iraq in three months, and the country’s president on Tuesday blamed corruption for both. A statement from the Prime Minister’s office called for national mourning.
Rescue teams used a heavy crane to remove charred and melted remains from the part of al-Hussain hospital in town where Covid-19 patients were being treated, as relatives gathered nearby.
A doctor at the hospital, who declined to give his name and whose shift ended hours before the fire broke out, said the lack of basic safety measures meant he was was about an accident in progress.
“The hospital does not have a fire sprinkler system or even a simple fire alarm,” he told Reuters.
“We have complained several times over the past three months that a tragedy can happen at any time from a cigarette butt, but each time we get the same response from health officials: ‘We don’t do not have enough money “.”
While some bodies were collected for burial, with mourners crying and praying over the coffins, the remains of more than 20 severely charred corpses required DNA testing to identify them.
In April, a similar explosion at a Baghdad Covid-19 hospital left at least 82 dead and 110 injured.
The head of Iraq’s semi-official Human Rights Commission said Monday’s explosion showed just how ineffective security measures were in a health system crippled by war and sanctions.
“The fact that such a tragic incident is repeated a few months later means that no (sufficient) measures have yet been taken to prevent them,” said Ali Bayati.
The fact that the hospital was built with lightweight panels separating the departments accelerated the spread of the fire, said the head of the local civil defense authority, Salah Jabbar.
The city’s health and civil defense officials and the hospital director were suspended and arrested Monday on the orders of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, his office said.
Government investigators arrived in Nassiriya on Tuesday, according to a statement. Their findings would be announced within a week, Kadhimi’s office said.
A Nassiriya court said it ordered the arrest of 13 local officials in connection with the fire.
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President Barham Salih said on Twitter that the two fires were “the result of rampant corruption and mismanagement that ignores the lives of Iraqis.”
At the town morgue, anger spread among those gathered while waiting to receive the bodies of their loved ones.
“No rapid response to the fire, not enough firefighters. Sick people died from burns. It’s a disaster,” said Mohammed Fadhil, while waiting to receive his brother’s body.
The fire trapped many patients inside the coronavirus ward which rescue teams struggled to reach, a health worker told Reuters on Monday before entering the burning building.
In Najaf, a Shia holy town about 250 km northwest of Nasiriya, an angry Imad Hashim sobbed after losing his mother, sister-in-law and niece.
“What should I say after losing my family,” said the 46-year-old. “No need to demand anything from a failed government. Three days and this case will be forgotten like the others.”