BAGHDAD – The death toll from a fire at an isolation ward for coronavirus patients in a southern Iraqi hospital rose to 92 people, health officials said on Tuesday.
The health department of Dhi Qar province said that some 50 people have been injured in the blaze that broke out late on Monday at Imam al-Hussein hospital in Nasiriyah city, which lies some 230 miles south of the capital, Baghdad.
Officials said there were more than 60 patients on the ward when fire erupted, plus the medical staff.
The fire totally destroyed the ward, which was built after the coronavirus spread last year over a 600-square-meter area and designed to take up to 100 patients.
Witnesses said that many families are still looking for the bodies of their relatives under the rubble. Other families are waiting outside the morgue in the city to identify charred bodies.
There are around 20 bodies that are yet to be identified, witnesses added.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi ordered an investigation into the fire and suspended the senior health and security officials in the province. All three will face investigation.
An investigative committee formed Monday night is expected to announce its findings within a week, al-Kadhimi told a Cabinet meeting, vowing that those responsible will be held accountable, his office said.
Security sources said arrest warrants have been issued for 11 people who work at Dhi Qar’s health department.
Officials have not yet confirmed the cause of the fire. Witnesses said it started when an oxygen cylinder exploded.
In April, a similar incident occurred at a hospital in the capital Baghdad, killing more than 80 people, with the health minister resigning afterwards.
President Barham Salih described the two incidents as “catastrophes.”
They are the result of “persistent corruption and mismanagement that underestimated the lives of Iraqis and prevented reforming the performance of institutions,” Salih wrote on Twitter.
He urged investigators to hold those responsible for such negligence accountable and said that a strict review of the performance of institutions is necessary.
Iraq has been struggling to control the spread of the coronavirus and the vaccination drive has been slow. It is also experiencing a deep economic crisis compounded by the pandemic and a fall in oil prices, the country’s main source of income.