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At least 82 killed in huge fire at Baghdad hospital for Covid-19 patients

There were "so many bodies all over the place," said Dr. Sabah al-Kuzaie.
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BAGHDAD — At least 82 people were killed as a fire swept through a hospital in Baghdad where Covid-19 patients were being treated, officials in Iraq said Sunday.

Ali al-Bayati, a spokesman for Iraq's semi-official Human Rights Commission, said a further 110 people had been injured in the blaze at Ibn al-Khatib hospital.

He had tweeted earlier that at least 28 of the patients who were killed were on ventilators as they battled severe Covid-19 symptoms.

Confirming the number of dead and injured in an interview with state media, Khalid al-Muhanna, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said the fire was caused by an exploding oxygen tank, Reuters reported.

"We urgently need to review safety measures at all hospitals to prevent such a painful incident from happening in future," he said.

The Civil Defense Directorate, which was in charge of fighting the fire, said in a statement that witnesses said the exploding cylinder had started the blaze.

The statement said 90 patients were rescued through windows and external emergency stairs, adding that the fire was contained to the hospital's second floor, where it was believed to have started.

Image: People and medical staff members walk at Ibn al-Khatib hospital
People and medical staff members at Ibn al-Khatib hospital in Baghdad on Sunday after a fire caused by an oxygen tank explosion.Thaier al-Sudani / Reuters

There was no fire safety system in the hospital, and the secondary ceiling made of cork helped the fire spread, the statement said.

Ahmed Zaki, who was visiting his brother when the blaze started, told Reuters that "it spread like fuel" was burning. After he made sure his brother was safe, he saw people jumping out of windows to escape, he said.

"Doctors fell on the cars. Everyone was jumping," he said, adding that he helped others to escape.

Dr. Sabah al-Kuzaie, who was also at the scene, told The Associated Press that there were "so many burned bodies all over the place."

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi tweeted Sunday that an investigation will be carried out and that those responsible will be held accountable.

The country has announced a three-day national mourning period for the victims.

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The U.N. special representative in Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, expressed her "shock and pain" at the enormity of the fire and called for stronger measures to prevent such disasters.

Iraq's health care system, already ruined by decades of sanctions, war and neglect, has been stretched during the coronavirus crisis.

Just over 1 million people have been infected with Covid-19 in Iraq, including more than 15,000 who have died, according to the Health Ministry.

Khalid Razak reported from Baghdad. Yuliya Talmazan reported from London.