A fire caused by an oxygen tank exploding at an Iraqi hospital treating COVID-19 patients has killed at least 82 people and injured 110 more, according to the country’s government.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has responded to the disaster by sacking key hospital officials, as well as suspending the country’s health minister and referring him for investigation.
The fire started after an oxygen tank exploded. Pic: AP
The fire broke out at Ibn Khatib hospital in the Diyala Bridge area of Iraqi capital Baghdad on Saturday night, with reports suggesting an oxygen cylinder exploded on a ward.
Firefighters rushed to battle the flames that raged across the second floor of the hospital, with the fire not put out until the early hours of Sunday morning.
Among the dead are said to be at least 28 patients on ventilators battling severe coronavirus symptoms.
Ambulances transported dozens of wounded, with the Iraqi health ministry saying at least 200 people were rescued from the scene.
Early reports suggested around 90 people were transferred to other hospitals.
By midday Sunday, relatives were still searching anxiously for unaccounted loved ones.
“Please, two of my relatives are missing. … I am going to die (without news about them),” posted a young woman on social media after a fruitless search for her family members.
“I hope someone can help us find Sadi Abdul Kareem and Samir Abdul Kareem, they were in the ICU.”
The fire started on a floor designated for patients in the pulmonary intensive care unit.
At an emergency meeting, Iraq’s prime minister Mr Al-Khadhimi said: “Negligence in such matters is not a mistake, but a crime for which all negligent parties must bear responsibility.”
He gave Iraqi authorities 24 hours to present the results of an investigation.
The fire started on a floor designated for patients in the pulmonary intensive care unit. Pic: AP
Iraq’s healthcare system had been ruined by decades of sanctions, war, and neglect, even before it was stretched further by the coronavirus pandemic.
Some 1,025,288 people have been infected with COVID-19 in Iraq and 15,217 people have died, the health ministry has reported.
Around 8,000 new cases are reported each day and, despite government pleas for people to get vaccinated, many Iraqis do not trust the health system or vaccines.