A large blaze at a hospital in southern Iraq has left at least 64 dead, medical officials said.
Two health officials said more than 100 other people were injured in the fire, which swept through the coronavirus ward of the Al-Hussein Teaching Hospital in the city of Nasiriyah on Monday.
Anguished relatives were still looking for traces of their loved ones yesterday 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.
Many cried openly, their tears tinged with anger, blaming both the provincial government of Dhi Qar, where Nasiriyah is located, and the federal government in Baghdad for years of mismanagement and n eglect.
"The whole state system has collapsed, and who paid the price? The people inside here. These people have paid the price," said Haidar al-Askari, who was at the scene of the blaze.
Overnight firefighters and rescuers — many with just flashlights and using blankets to extinguish small fires still smouldering 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 electrical short circuit, but have not provided more details.
Another official said the blaze erupted when an oxygen cylinder exploded.
The new ward, opened just three months ago, contained 70 beds.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi chaired an emergency meeting in the wake of the fire and ordered the suspension and arrest of the health director in Dhi Qar province, where Nasiriyah is located, as well as the director of the hospital and the city's director of civil defence.
A government investigation was also launched.
It is the second time a large fire has killed coronavirus patients in an Iraqi hospital this year. At least 82 people died at the 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.
Major General Khalid Bohan, head of Iraq's civil defence, said that the building was constructed from flammable materials and prone to fire.