Updated: July 14, 2021 05:20 AM GMT
People take images of flames as a massive fire engulfs the coronavirus isolation ward of al-Hussein Teaching Hospital in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah late on July 12. (Photo: AFP)
Pope Francis offered his prayers and condolences after a fire at in a Covid-19 hospital ward in Iraq left at least 64 people dead.
"His Holiness Pope Francis sends the assurance of his spiritual closeness to all affected by the tragic fire at the Covid isolation ward of the al-Hussein hospital in Nasiriyah," said a telegram sent by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, to Archbishop Mitja Leskovar, the Vatican nuncio to Iraq.
"Deeply saddened, he prays especially for those who have died and for the comfort of their families and friends who mourn their loss. Upon the patients, staff and caregivers, he invokes God's blessings of consolation, strength and peace," said the message, which the Vatican released July 13.
Associated Press reported that in addition to the 64 people reported dead as of July 13, officials said more than 100 people were injured in the blaze on July 12 at the coronavirus ward of al-Hussein Teaching Hospital.
Officials initially had said the fire was caused by an electric short circuit, AP reported, but another official told the agency the blaze erupted when an oxygen cylinder exploded. The Covid-19 ward opened three months ago and had 70 beds.
Grief and anger gripped the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah after the deadly blaze.
A patient comes in looking for treatment and he ends up being carried out in a coffin
Smoke was still rising from the charred debris of the temporary building on July 13 as grieving relatives looked on.
"A patient comes in looking for treatment and he ends up being carried out in a coffin," said Abou Nour al-Shawi, an elderly onlooker.
He pointed out the frailty of the structure, which had collapsed quickly in the flames. "This place is not even fit for animals," he said.
As the first funerals were held, indignant protesters vented their outrage at provincial authorities they blame for the deaths, an AFP correspondent said.
In Al-Dawaya, east of Nasiriyah, a joint funeral was held for six members of a single family who had died in the inferno.
In Al-Nasr, north of the city, mourners laid to rest two brothers and two sisters who perished in the flames.
Other funerals were held in the Shia holy city of Najaf, where mourner Yunus Saleh blamed politicians for the tragedy.
"My family lost five members and a sixth wasn't found. We couldn't identify his body," he said. "Where else would something like this happen? Where? The (political) parties burned them."
Hundreds of young protesters shut down private hospitals in Nasiriyah to pressure the authorities to open the doors of a new public hospital.