Devastating fire at Iraqi wedding hall leaves 100 dead
100 people died and 150 others were injured after a fire broke out during a wedding celebration at an event hall in the northern Iraqi town of Qaraqosh, authorities said on Wednesday.
The tragic event unfolded early Wednesday, with ambulances rushing to the scene, and residents of the predominantly Christian town gathering at the main hospital to donate blood.
The health ministry confirmed the casualty toll, stating that most of the injured suffered from burns or oxygen deprivation, and there were reports of crowd crushes in the packed reception hall. The Iraqi Red Crescent recorded over 450 casualties but couldn't provide a specific breakdown of fatalities.
Preliminary findings indicated that highly flammable prefabricated panels inside the event hall, which violated safety standards, exacerbated the danger. Toxic gases released from the combustion of these panels, containing plastic, added to the catastrophe. Initial information suggested that fireworks may have triggered the blaze.
Eyewitnesses described the harrowing scene as fireworks ignited, causing the entire hall to become engulfed in flames. Wedding guest Rania Waad, who sustained burns, recounted the terrifying experience, mentioning how they struggled to escape the suffocating smoke and chaos.
Emergency response teams worked diligently to inspect the charred remains of the event hall, while Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani called on the health and interior ministers to coordinate rescue efforts to aid the victims. Medical aid teams were dispatched from Baghdad and other provinces, with Nineveh mobilizing its teams to care for the injured.
This tragic incident underscores the ongoing issue of safety standards being disregarded in Iraq's construction sector, often resulting in fatal accidents. The country's infrastructure, already in disrepair due to years of conflict, has been the scene of numerous devastating fires and accidents, including a hospital fire in July 2021 that claimed over 60 lives and another hospital fire in April of the same year, which killed more than 80 people.
Qaraqosh, like many Christian towns in the Nineveh Plains, had experienced a traumatic history, with the Islamic State group ransacking the town in 2014. However, efforts had been made to rebuild the town and its churches after the group's ouster, and Pope Francis had visited Qaraqosh in March 2021, bringing a message of hope and reconciliation to the community.