(Qaraqosh) At least 100 people died and 150 others were injured in a fire during a wedding in a village hall in northern Iraq, according to a “preliminary assessment” announced Wednesday by health authorities.
At the main hospital in Hamdaniyah, a small Christian town near Mosul also known as Qaraqosh, an AFP photographer saw several ambulances arriving, sirens blaring.
Wednesday after midnight, dozens of people were gathered in the courtyard of the establishment, relatives of victims or residents coming to donate their blood, according to the same source.
Residents were also gathered in front of the open doors of a refrigerated truck where several black body bags were placed, according to the photographer.
Health authorities in Nineveh, the province where Qaraqosh is located, “have recorded 100 dead and more than 150 injured in the fire in a wedding hall in Hamdaniyah,” announced the official Iraqi news agency INA, referring to a “ preliminary assessment”.
Health Ministry spokesperson Saif al-Badr confirmed this report to AFP. “Most of the injured suffer from burns and asphyxiation,” he said, also reporting stampedes.
“We were suffocating”
Referring to the intervention in the village hall where rescuers put out the fire, Civil Defense reported the presence of prefabricated panels that were “highly flammable and contravening safety standards”.
“Preliminary information indicates that fireworks were used during a wedding which started a fire in the room,” adds the Civil Defense press release.
The flames caused “parts of the ceiling to fall, due to the use of highly flammable and inexpensive construction materials,” according to the same source. The danger was aggravated “by the emissions of toxic gases linked to the combustion of panels” containing plastic.
Suffering from a burn on her hand, Rania Waad, 17, is at Hamdaniyah hospital for treatment with her sister.
The bride and groom “were slow dancing, the fireworks started to rise to the ceiling, the whole room burst into flames,” says the teenager in a voice choked with sobs, adding that the guests were “very numerous “. “We couldn’t see anything, we were suffocating, we didn’t know how to get out.”
Among the ruins of the village hall, the AFP photographer was able to see rescuers and police officers inspecting the site by the light of torches and cell phones where iron chairs were piled up in the middle of the rubble, under the scrap metal. which hangs from the ceiling.
In Iraq, safety standards are poorly respected, whether in the construction or transport sector. The country, with its infrastructure in disrepair after decades of conflict, is regularly the scene of fires or fatal domestic accidents.
In July 2021, a fire in the COVID-19 unit of a hospital in southern Iraq cost the lives of more than 60 people. And a few months earlier in April, the explosion of oxygen cylinders sparked a fire in a hospital in the capital Baghdad dedicated to COVID-19, and left more than 80 dead.
In a succinct statement on Wednesday, Prime Minister Mohamed Chia al-Soudani called on the health and interior ministers to “mobilize all rescue efforts” to help the victims of the Hamdaniyah tragedy.
For its part, the Ministry of Health announced “the sending of trucks of medical aid” from Baghdad and other provinces of the country, ensuring that its teams in Nineveh were mobilized to “treat the injured”.
Like many Christian towns in the Nineveh Plain, Qaraqosh and its churches were methodically ransacked by the jihadists of the Islamic State (IS) group when they entered the town in June 2014.
The locality was slowly rebuilt after the rout of ISIS in 2017. And it received a visit from Pope Francis in March 2021.