Several dozen people were killed and over sixty wounded in a fire at a coronavirus hospital in Nassiriya, a health official and police said on Monday. The fire is thought to have been started by an oxygen tank explosion.
Rescuers combed through the smoke-charred building in search of more bodies, while Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi called an urgent meeting with ministers and top security officials to discuss the tragedy, according to the premier’s office.
Having already been torn apart by war and sanctions, Iraq’s healthcare system has struggled to cope with the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed 17,592 people and infected more than 1.4 million.
Several patients were coughing from the smoke as firefighters removed charred bodies from the burning hospital, a reporter at the fire site reported.
Nassiriya’s health officials said search operations at the al-Hussain coronavirus hospital were continuing after the fire was brought under control, but thick smoke made it difficult to enter some of the burnt wards.
The fires in the Coronavirus ward have trapped many patients and rescue teams are struggling to reach them, a health worker told Reuters before entering the burning building.
At the scene of the fire, a policeman said the fire was likely caused by an oxygen tank explosion inside the COVID-19 wards of the hospital.
“I heard a big explosion inside the Coronavirus wards and then fire erupted very quickly,” said Ali Muhsin, a hospital guard helping carry patients away from fires.