At least 42 people have been killed and over 60 injured in a fire blamed on an oxygen tank explosion at a coronavirus hospital in Iraq.
- Rescuers carried charred bodies from the rubble
- Angry relatives clashed with police outside the hospital
- Iraq has struggled with a COVID outbreak which has killed nearly 18,000 people
The fire broke out at the al-Hussain coronavirus hospital in the southern city of Nasiriyah.
“Health crews carried charred bodies out of the burning hospital while many patients were coughing from the rising smoke,” a Reuters reporter at the site of the fire said.
Health officials in Nasiriyah said search operations were continuing after the fire was brought under control, but thick smoke was making it difficult to enter some of the burnt wards.
Initial police reports suggested that an oxygen tank explosion caused the fire, a policeman at the scene said.
“I heard a big explosion inside the coronavirus wards and then fire had erupted very quickly,” said Ali Muhsin, a hospital guard who was helping carrying injured patients to safety.
As rescuers combed the smoke-blackened building in search of more bodies, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi held an urgent meeting with ministers and top security commanders to discuss the tragedy, his office said in a brief statement.
Angry relatives gathered in front of the hospital and clashed with police, setting fire to two police vehicles, a Reuters witness said.
“Where is my father’s body?” said one young man as he searched among charred bodies wrapped in blankets in the hospital’s yard.
Already decimated by war and sanctions, Iraq’s healthcare system has struggled to cope with the coronavirus crisis, which has killed 17,592 people and infected more than 1.4 million.
In April, a fire caused by an oxygen tank explosion at a COVID-19 hospital in Baghdad killed at least 82 people and injured 110.