At least 82 people have died and 110 have been injured in a fire at a hospital in southeastern Baghdad that had been equipped to house Covid-19 patients, medical sources at three nearby hospitals said.
The fire, at the Ibn Khatib hospital in the Diyala Bridge area of the Iraqi capital, occurred on Saturday after an accident caused an oxygen tank to explode, the sources explained.
Many ambulances were rushing towards the hospital, ferrying away those hurt by the fire, according to a Reuters photographer who was nearby.
Patients not injured in the incident were being transferred out of the hospital, the medical sources said.
The head of the Iraqi civil defence unit said the fire broke out on the floor designated as the pulmonary intensive care unit and that 90 people have been rescued from the hospital out of 120, according to state news agency INA.
Major General Kadhim Bohan added that the fire has now been put out.
Iraqi prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi ordered an investigation into the incident which took place in the early hours of Sunday.
“Such an incident is evidence of negligence, and therefore I directed that an investigation be launched immediately and for the hospital’s manager and the heads of security and maintenance to be detained, along with all those concerned, until we identify those negligent and hold them accountable.”
Several victims’ families were still at the hospital hours after the fire had been put out, having been unable to locate their relatives elsewhere.
An eyewitness who was visiting his brother when the fire broke out described people jumping out of windows as the fire, caused by the explosion of an oxygen bottle, spread quickly throughout the unit equipped to house Covid-19 patients. At least 28 of the dead were on ventilators.
Patients’ relatives scrambled to save their loved ones.
“In the beginning, there was an explosion... The fire spread, like fuel,” said a relative of one of the patients who was there at the time of the explosion.
“The smoke reached my brother. My brother is sick, I took my brother out to the street. Then I came (back)... to the last floor, that did not burn. I found a girl suffocating, about 19 years old, she was suffocating, she was about to die.
“I took her on my shoulders and I ran down. People were jumping... Doctors fell on the cars. Everyone was jumping. And I kept going up from there, got people and come down again.”
Iraq’s healthcare system, already devastated by decades of sanctions, war and neglect, has been stretched during the coronavirus crisis.
The total number of people infected with Covid-19 in Iraq is 1,025,288, including 15,217 deaths, the health ministry said on Saturday.
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