At least 92 people were killed and more than 100 injured in a fire at a Covid-19 hospital the city of Nasiriyah in southern Iraq on Monday night, the Dhi Qar health directorate reported.
The blaze at Al-Hussein Hospital was caused by an oxygen tank explosion, health officials said, the second such incident in months. In April, at least 82 people were killed and 110 people injured after a similar accident at a coronavirus clinic in Baghdad.
“Sixty-four (bodies) were retrieved and 39 identified and handed over to their families,” a source at the Forensic Science Department in Dhi Qar, where Nasiriyah is located, told AFP, adding: “Medical teams and relatives of victims are finding it difficult to identify the rest of the corpses.”
The death toll might rise further with more bodies feared buried under the rubble.
With the search ongoing, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi held urgent meetings with senior ministers and ordered the suspension and arrest of health and civil defence managers in the city, his office said in a statement, Reuters reported.
The manager of the hospital was also suspended and ordered to be arrested, the statement added.
Outside the hospital, dozens of young demonstrators protested.
“The perpetrators must be deterred… The state must take the necessary measures… to confront the corrupt,” a young protester told AFP early Tuesday.
He said those responsible must be held “accountable… in transparent investigations that show people that it (the state) is serious about putting an end to these tragedies.”
In a tweet on Tuesday, Iraqi President Barham Salih blamed the “catastrophe” at Al-Hussein Hospital on “persistent corruption and mismanagement that undervalues the lives of Iraqis”.
Salih recalled that the April fire in Baghdad was also sparked by the explosion of badly stored oxygen cylinders.
The April fire triggered widespread anger, resulting in the suspension and subsequent resignation of then health minister Hassan al-Tamimi.
Already decimated by war and sanctions, Iraq’s healthcare system has struggled to cope with the coronavirus crisis, which has killed 17,592 people and infected more than 1.4 million according to official data