Raging fire has engulfed a training hospital in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah, reportedly killing scores of people, with the death toll expected to rise far higher amid the dire situation surrounding firefighting efforts.
The blaze erupted in the isolation ward of the Imam Hussain hospital in the city, which is the capital of Iraq’s Dhi Qar Province, reports said on Tuesday.
The quarantined ward was being used to hospitalize COVID-19 patients.
Unofficial figures have put the death toll at above 60 so far.
Some Iraqi media outlets have identified five medical staffers, two nurses, three women, and a member of the Iraqi interior ministry among the victims.
Dozens are, however, still trapped at the hospital, raising the prospect of the death toll’s rising to above 90 as more and more people succumb to the flames.
The fire reportedly started after explosion of an oxygen tank.
Firefighting services have reportedly run out of available water, and the locals are trying to douse the flames using their own water reservoirs.
Local commander Saad Harbiyah said several firefighting teams were battling the blaze. Eyewitnesses said, though, that the fire was so extensive that might not come under control at short notice.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has travelled to Nasiriyah to keep abreast of the developments on the ground. He has held an emergency meeting there to address the disaster.
Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi said in a tweet that he would hold a similar meeting on Tuesday to examine the extent of the catastrophe.
The blaze in Nasiriyah is a poignant reminder of a similar conflagration that afflicted the Ibn Khatib hospital in the capital Baghdad earlier this year, killing more than 110 people.
Only hours before the blaze struck the training hospital, a fire broke out at the fourth floor of the Iraqi health ministry’s building, prompting a complete evacuation. The storey houses the ministry’s administrative and financial affairs’ sector that had all of its documents and ledgers burnt during the incident.