Around a hundred people died and 150 others were killed. injured in a fire caused by by fireworks during a wedding party in northern Iraq, according to a still provisional assessment announced today. Wednesday by the authorities.
Flames ravaged a party hall hosting a wedding with hundreds of guests in Qaraqosh, a Christian town also known as Hamdaniyah, in Nineveh province.
According to the emergency services, indoor “fireworks” (or showers of sparks), “highly flammable construction materials” but also an insufficient number of emergency exits are the cause of the tragedy.< /p>
On Wednesday, hundreds of people gathered in the afternoon at the Qaraqosh cemetery to bury loved ones.
One by one, around twenty coffins, sometimes covered with satin fabric or wreaths of flowers, arrived, pushing through the crowd. Women in tears, dressed all in black, could only advance with support on each side.
The health authorities of Nineveh “have recorded 100 deaths and more than 150 injured in the fire”, announced the official INA press agency, referring to a “preliminary assessment”.
Wednesday evening, the authorities had still not published a definitive assessment, with officials having communicated contradictory figures.
The director of the Nineveh health authorities, Mansour Maarouf, reported 94 bodies transferred to different hospitals, specifying during a press briefing that only around thirty could be immediately identified by the families.
< p>– Arrests –
Bodies lie on the floor of a Mosul hospital morgue the day after a fire in a village hall in the northern Iraqi town of Qaraqosh , September 27, 2023 © AFP – Zaid AL-OBEIDI
“Nearly 900 people” were in the room at the time of the tragedy, Interior Minister Abdel Amir al-Shammari said in a statement.
The security services arrested 14 people — “including 10 employees, the owner of the room and three people involved in activating the fireworks”, according to the same source.
Shortly before the tragedy, Martin Idriss, 19 years old, worked in the kitchen.
“I thought there had been an explosion (…) the flames devoured the entire room,” he told AFP, saying he saw “three burned bodies of children”.
Civil Defense reported the presence of prefabricated panels that were “highly flammable and contravened safety standards.”
“Preliminary information indicates that fireworks (indoor, Editor's note) were used (…) which started a fire in the room”, according to a press release.
The flames caused “the fall of certain parts of the ceiling, due to the use of highly flammable and inexpensive construction materials.”
Civil Defense further reported “gas emissions toxic linked to the burning of panels” containing plastic.
“The emergency exits were closed, only the main entrance remained” for the evacuation of guests, indicated its spokesperson Jawdat Abdel Rahmane.
On September 27, 2023, firefighters inspect the damage from a fire that ravaged a village hall hosting a wedding in the town of Qaraqosh, in northern Iraq © AFP – Zaid AL-OBEIDI
In the morning, police and rescuers inspected the charred room, in the middle of a pile of twisted iron and metal sheets, the roof structure having collapsed, according to an AFP photographer.
Here and there on the ground, a shoe, an abandoned pump, a handbag and makeup products.
– “We were suffocating” –
A firefighter looks at the damage caused by a fire in a village hall hosting a wedding in the town of Qaraqosh, in northern Iraq, on September 27, 2023 © AFP – Zaid AL-OBEIDI
Burned in the hand, Rania Waad, 17 years old , is located at Hamdaniyah Hospital.
The bride and groom “were slow dancing, the fireworks started to rise to the ceiling, the whole room burst into flames,” says the teenager, her voice choked with sobs. The guests were “very numerous.”
“We couldn't see anything, we were suffocating, we didn't know how to get out.”
Prime Minister Mohamed Chia al-Soudani called for a commission of inquiry and called to “provide the best care to the injured”.
In a country with crumbling infrastructure after decades of conflict, safety standards are poorly respected in construction or transport.
The rubble of the village hall ravaged by a deadly fire during a wedding, September 27, 2023 in Qaraqosh, Iraq © AFP – Zaid AL-OBEIDI
In 2021, two fires had caused several dozen deaths in hospitals, just a few months apart.
Like many Christian towns in Nineveh, Qaraqosh had been ransacked by the jihadists of the Islamic State (IS) group when they were entered the city in June 2014.
The locality had been slowly rebuilt after the rout of ISIS in 2017 and received a visit from Pope Francis in March 2021.
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