BAGDAD – At least 82 people were killed when a fire swept through a Baghdad hospital treating Covid-19 patients, officials in Iraq said on Sunday.
Ali al-Bayati, a spokesman for Iraq’s semi-official human rights commission, told NBC News that another 110 people were injured in the fire at the Iraqi capital’s Ibn al-Khatib hospital.
He had previously tweeted that at least 28 of those killed were ventilated as they battled severe Covid-19 symptoms.
Khalid al-Muhanna, a spokesman for the Iraqi Interior Ministry, confirmed the death toll and injured in an interview with state media and said the fire was caused by an exploding oxygen tank, according to Reuters.
“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 protection agency tasked with fighting the fire said in a statement that eyewitnesses told them that the exploding cylinder had started the fire.
The statement said 90 patients were rescued through windows and external emergency stairs. The fire was on the second floor of the hospital, where it was believed to have started.
The hospital did not have a fire protection system and the cork secondary ceiling helped spread the fire, the statement said.
Ahmed Zaki, who was visiting his brother when the fire started, told Reuters that “it spreads like fuel”. After making sure his brother was safe, he said that people jumped out the windows to escape.
“Doctors fell on the cars. Everyone jumped,” he said, adding that he was helping others escape.
Dr. Sabah al-Kuzaie, who was also there, told the Associated Press that “there are so many burned bodies everywhere”.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi tweeted Sunday that an investigation into the incident will be conducted and those responsible will be held accountable.
The country has announced a three-day national mourning for the victims of the fire.
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The United Nations Special Representative in Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, also expressed them “Shock and pain” at the enormity of the fire, before stronger protective measures are required to prevent such disasters.
The Iraqi health system, already ruined by decades of sanctions, war and neglect, was stretched during the coronavirus crisis.
The total number of people infected with Covid-19 in Iraq is just over 1 million, including more than 15,000 deaths, according to the country’s health ministry.
Khalid Razak reported from Baghdad and Yuliya Talmazan from London.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.