BAGHDAD, Iraq—At least 27 people were killed and 46 injured in a fire on Saturday at a hospital in southeastern Baghdad that had been equipped to house COVID-19 patients, medical sources at three nearby hospitals said.
The fire at the Ibn Khatib hospital in the Diyala Bridge area of the Iraqi capital occurred after an accident caused an oxygen tank to explode, the sources said.
Many ambulances were rushing towards the hospital, ferrying away those hurt by the fire, a Reuters photographer nearby said.
Patients not injured in the incident were also being transferred out of the hospital, the medical sources said.
The head of Iraqi civil defense unit said the fire broke out in the floor designated for the pulmonary intensive care unit and that 90 people have been rescued from the hospital out of 120, state news agency INA quoted him as saying.
Major General Kadhim Bohan added that the fire has been put out.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi ordered an investigation into the incident in the early hours of Sunday.
“Such an incident is evidence of negligence and therefore I directed that an investigation be launched immediately and for the hospital’s manager and the heads of security and maintenance to be detained along with all those concerned until we identify those negligent and hold them accountable.”
Several victims’ families were still at the hospital hours after the fire had been put out, having been unable to locate them elsewhere.
An eyewitness who was visiting his brother when the fire broke out described people jumping out of windows as the fire, caused by the explosion of an oxygen bottle, spread quickly throughout the unit equipped to house COVID-19 patients.
Patients’ relatives scrambled to save their loved ones.
“In the beginning, there was an explosion…The fire spread, like fuel,” said one relative of one of the patients who was there at the time of the explosion.
“The smoke reached my brother. My brother is sick, I took my brother out to the street. Then I came (back)…To the last floor, that did not burn. I found a girl suffocating, about 19 years old, she was suffocating, she was about to die.”
“I took her on my shoulders and I ran down. People were jumping…Doctors fell on the cars. Everyone was jumping. And I kept going up from there, got people and come down again.”
Iraq’s healthcare system, already ruined by decades of sanctions, war and neglect, has been stretched during the coronavirus crisis.
The total number of people infected with COVID-19 in Iraq is 102,5288 including 15,217 deaths, the health ministry said on Saturday.
By Maher Nazeh