People in the intensive care ward at St John the Evangelist hospital in Tivoli were rushed immediately by ambulance to other hospitals in Italy’s capital after the fire ignited late on Friday night, the Tivoli mayor’s office said.
Other patients were moved into a nearby gym pending transfer to other facilities, with at least 200 patients reported to have been evacuated in total, the last of them waiting until dawn.
Three elderly people are confirmed to have died, and the body of a fourth man was also recovered by firefighters, but his daughter who had visited for a final farewell said her father had died prior to the fire breaking out, newspaper Corriere della Sera reported.
An autopsy has been ordered on the victims’ bodies to ascertain the causes of death.
One bereaved daughter has already called for clarity over her 84-year-old mother Giuseppina Virginia Facca’s death, and was reported by local media as saying, “They told us she died the moment the fire started, but not from the smoke.
“She was 84 years old and had a lung problem, she was hospitalised again three days ago on the third floor. They told us that our mother did not die from the fire even though the death occurred at the same time, we want the truth.”
The blaze began at around 10:30pm and was eventually brought under control, the fire department said.
The fire apparently broke out in the basement of the structure, initially involving the mortuary, then part of the kitchens and the first floor, but the dense smoke also spread to the upper levels, news agency Ansa reported.
Footage showed fire crews on ladders trying to reach the upper floors of the hospital as smoke billowed out, and Il Messaggero newspaper reported fears of how patients reliant on oxygen would cope after the power was cut.
“I smelled the smell of burning plastic and I went out,” a 39-year-old patient was quoted in Italian media as saying. “I was in the emergency room [in the basement], there was only smoke and the power went out, so we escaped thanks to the emergency lights even though we couldn't see much.
“There were moments of panic. In addition to the stretchers, we rushed as much as we could and some sick people were even carried. We left through the morgue and the police broke the gate to let us out.”
The hospital’s chaplain, Father Lorenzo, added: “The light went out and there were people screaming , from there I understood that something serious had happened. When I came out I saw the nurses with the stretchers and the patients taken away even by arm, we all gave a hand.”
The governor of the Lazio region, Francesco Rocca, said from the scene that three people were killed and an investigation would determine the cause of the blaze. He acknowledged there were “notable delays” in updating Italy’s aging hospitals with sprinkler systems and other fire safety infrastructure.
Additional reporting by AP
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