BAGHDAD (AP) — The death toll
from the previous day's catastrophic fire at a coronavirus hospital
ward in southern Iraq
rose to 58 on Tuesday, according to Iraqi medical officials.
More than 100 people
were also injured, according to two health
officials, in the fire that engulfed the coronavirus ward of al-Hussein Teaching Hospital in Nasiriyah on Monday.
On Tuesday morning, anguished relatives were still looking for traces of their loved ones, searching through the debris of charred blankets and belongings inside the torched remains of the ward, where a blackened skull of a deceased female patient from the ward was discovered.
Many openly sobbed, their tears tinged with rage, blaming both the provincial government of Dhi Qar, where Nasiriyah is located, and the federal government in Baghdad for years of mismanagement and neglect.
and rescuers frantically worked searching through the ward in the dark, many with only flashlights and blankets to extinguish small fires that were still smoldering in places. As dawn broke, bodies covered in sheets were laid on the ground outside the hospital.
Officials previously stated that the fire was caused by an electric short circuit, but provided no further details; another official stated that the fire erupted when an oxygen cylinder exploded. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists
The new ward had 70 beds when it opened three months ago.
In the aftermath of the fire, Prime Minister
Mustafa al-Kadhimi convened an emergency meeting and ordered the suspension and arrest
of Dhi Qar's health director, as well as the hospital's director and the city's director of civil defense, as well as the launch of an official investigation
Mourners prepared to bury some of the victims in Najaf, a Shiite holy city nearby.
It was the second time
this year that a large fire in an Iraqi hospital killed coronavirus patients; in April
, at least 82 people died when an oxygen tank exploded, sparking the fire at Ibn al-Khateeb hospital in Baghdad.
That incident exposed widespread negligence and systemic mismanagement in Iraqi hospitals, prompting doctors to complain about lax safety regulations, particularly those governing oxygen cylinders.
Ammar al-Zamili, a spokesman for the Dhi Qar health department, told local media
on Monday that there were at least 63 patients inside the ward when the fire broke out. Maj. Gen. Khalid Bohan, head of Iraq's civil defense, told the press that the building was made of flammable materials and was prone to fire.
Iraq is experiencing another severe COVID-19
surge, with daily coronavirus rates peaking at 9,000 new cases last week. After decades of war and sanctions
, Iraq's health sector has struggled to contain the virus, with over 17,000 people dying from the virus among 1.4 million confirmed cases since the pandemic