People gather at the ravaged coronavirus isolation ward of 
Al-Hussein hospital after a massive fire overnight in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah on Tuesday.
People gather at the ravaged coronavirus isolation ward of Al-Hussein hospital after a massive fire overnight in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah on Tuesday.
—AFP

Qassim Abdul-Zahra

Baghdad

The toll from a catastrophic blaze that erupted at a coronavirus hospital ward in southern Iraq the previous day rose to 64 on Tuesday, Iraqi medical officials said.

Two health officials said more than 100 people were also injured in the fire that torched the coronavirus ward of al-Hussein Teaching Hospital in the city of Nasiriyah on Monday.

Anguished relatives were still looking for traces of their loved ones on Tuesday 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 neglect.

“The whole state system has collapsed, and who paid the price? People inside he­re. They have paid the pri­ce,” said Haidar al-Aska­ri, at the scene of the blaze.

Overnight, firefighters and rescuers — many with just flashlights and using blankets to extinguish small fires still smoldering 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.

Officials said the fire was caused by a short circuit, but provided no more details. Another official said the blaze erupted when an oxygen cylinder exploded.

The new ward, opened 3 months ago, contained 70 beds. PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi chaired an emergency meeting and ordered the suspension and arrest of health director in Dhi Qar.

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