Death Toll Climbs After Fire Sweeps Through Iraq Coronavirus Ward

BAGHDAD — After a catastrophic fireplace in southern Iraq that killed no less than 64 folks, some victims’ family members gathered within the holy metropolis of Najaf on Tuesday to bury their lifeless, whereas dozens extra had been left ready in limbo exterior the wreckage of the hospital in a close-by metropolis the place flames swept via a coronavirus isolation ward the night time earlier than.

It was not instantly clear what triggered the hearth, at al-Hussein Teaching Hospital in Nasiriya, with well being officers providing completely different explanations similar to an electrical brief or an exploding oxygen canister. Patients, family members and well being employees had been among the many lifeless from a blaze so intense that no less than 22 of the our bodies couldn’t instantly be recognized.

In late April, an analogous fireplace at a coronavirus hospital in Baghdad, the capital, killed greater than 80 folks and injured greater than 100. It was believed to have been brought on by a spark igniting improperly saved oxygen canisters. Some of the sufferers hooked as much as ventilators had been burned alive of their beds together with visiting family members who wouldn’t go away them. The hospital had no working fireplace alarm and no sprinkler system and Iraq’s well being minister on the time resigned in response.

The two tragedies inside three months had been a reminder of the longstanding issues which have plagued Iraq’s well being care system and different public providers, which undergo from years of cumulative corruption and mismanagement. In many hospitals, visiting family members crowd coronavirus wards and most lack procedures for correctly storing oxygen cylinders or stopping or preventing fires.

President Barham Salih of Iraq, in a tweet, blamed the most recent lack of life on “persistent corruption and mismanagement that undervalues the lives of Iraqis.” Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi ordered the detention of the provincial well being director, the hospital director and the provincial civil protection director.

The metropolis of Nasriya was a middle of the protests that introduced down Iraq’s authorities two years in the past, and protesters rushed into the streets once more after the hearth on Monday night time and into Tuesday, calling for the resignation of extra officers.

The Iraqi civil protection chief, Maj. Gen. Kathem Bohan, stated the constructing that housed the three-month-old coronavirus isolation ward subsequent to the primary hospital had been constructed from flammable supplies. Other officers have stated oxygen is saved haphazardly at nearly all Iraqi hospitals.

Once the hearth began, it unfold with devastating velocity and burned for 3 hours, in response to witnesses.

On Tuesday morning, family members had been nonetheless combing via the charred rubble of the 70-bed facility on the lookout for proof of their lacking family members.

At the scene of the hearth late Monday night time, civilians rushed to assist rescue the wounded and to hold out the lifeless.

“When I arrived, the fire had completely engulfed the isolation ward,” stated Ali Mahmoud, an unemployed engineer who put out Facebook messages calling for activists to assist firefighters and rescue groups.

Mr. Mahmoud, 24, stated he had helped perform our bodies.

Iraq is within the midst of a 3rd wave of coronavirus infections. Last week, the nation reached a excessive of 9,000 new instances a day with greater than 17,000 lifeless for the reason that pandemic started, in response to the well being ministry. The an infection and dying charges are believed to be considerably undercounted as a result of many individuals consider it’s safer to be handled at dwelling.

Iraq, with its large southern oil fields, is likely one of the largest oil producers on the planet. But due to rampant corruption, authorities dysfunction and militia management, the south is the poorest a part of the nation.

Falih Hassan, Awadh al-Taiee and Nermeen al-Mufti contributed reporting.