Iraqi Official Says Hospital Where 64 Killed in Fire Was Constructed From Flammable Material

An Iraqi official said a hospital fire that killed 64 people and injured 100 others Monday occurred because the building was constructed with flammable materials.

Major General Khalid Bohan, head of Iraq's civil defense, said the coronavirus ward of al-Hussein Teaching Hospital in the city of Nasiriyah was built with materials that were prone to fire, according to the Associated Press.

Early reports suspected the fire was caused by an electrical short circuit or from an oxygen cylinder explosion. Many people blamed the provincial government of Dhi Qar and the federal government for the incident, citing mismanagement and neglect.

"The whole state system has collapsed, and who paid the price? The people inside here. These people have paid the price," Haidar al-Askari, who was at the scene of the blaze, said.

A governmental investigation was launched and Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi ordered the suspension and arrest of the health director in Dhi Qar, the director of the hospital, and the city's director of civil defense.

Iraq Hospital Fire
An aerial picture shows the damage after a massive fire overnight engulfed the coronavirus isolation ward of Al-Hussein hospital in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah, on July 13, 2021. A government official said the hospital was built with flammable material, as many blamed the fire on the mismanagement and neglect from the government. ASAAD NIAZ/AFP via Getty Images

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Anguished relatives were still looking for traces of their loved ones on Tuesday morning, searching through the debris of charred blankets and belongings inside the torched remains of the ward. A blackened skull of a deceased female patient from the ward was found.

Overnight, firefighters and rescuers — many with just flashlights and using blankets to extinguish small fires still smoldering in places — had frantically worked searching through the ward in the darkness. As dawn broke, bodies covered with sheets were laid on the ground outside the hospital.

Earlier, officials had said the fire was caused by an electric short circuit, but provided no more details. Another official said the blaze erupted when an oxygen cylinder exploded. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.

The new ward, opened just three months ago, contained 70 beds.

In the nearby Shiite holy city of Najaf, mourners prepared to bury some of the victims.

It was the second time a large fire killed coronavirus patients in an Iraqi hospital this year. At least 82 people died at Ibn al-Khateeb hospital in Baghdad in April, when an oxygen tank exploded, sparking the blaze.

That incident brought to light widespread negligence and systemic mismanagement in Iraq's hospitals. Doctors have decried lax safety rules, especially around the oxygen cylinders.

Iraq is in the midst of another severe COVID-19 surge. Daily coronavirus rates peaked last week at 9,000 new cases. After decades of war and sanctions, Iraq's health sector has struggled to contain the virus. Over 17,000 people have died of the virus among 1.4 million confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic.

Fire Rescue Iraq Hospital
Rescuers and civilians look for bodies after a catastrophic blaze erupted Monday at a coronavirus hospital ward in the al-Hussein Teaching Hospital, in Nasiriyah, Iraq, Tuesday, July 13, 2021. Iraqi medical officials said the death toll from the fire in Nasiriyah had risen to over 60. Two health officials said on Tuesday that more than 100 people were also injured. Khalid Mohammed/AP Photo