The Iraqi Civil Defense stated that preliminary information indicates that the cause of the fire was the use of fireworks during the wedding celebration, leading to a fire inside the hall
At least a hundred people were killed, and more than 150 others were injured in a fire that broke out in a wedding hall in the town of Hamdaniya in the Nineveh province in northern Iraq during a wedding ceremony, according to authorities announced early Wednesday, following two similar fires in a hospital in Nasiriyah and another hospital in Baghdad two years ago.
The official Iraqi News Agency quoted the health department in Nineveh province as saying that “a preliminary toll of a hundred deaths and more than 150 injuries” was recorded as a result of the disaster that befell the Christian town located east of Mosul.
The spokesman for the Ministry of Health, Saif al-Badr, confirmed this toll, stating that most of the injuries were burns and suffocation. At the Hamdaniya General Hospital, after midnight, ambulances were seen rushing back and forth to transport the injured.
Dozens of people, including relatives of the victims and others, gathered in front of the hospital, some of them residents who came to donate blood. Others also stood in front of a refrigerated truck loaded with black bags containing the bodies of the dead, according to the photographer.
For its part, the Iraqi Civil Defense said that “preliminary information” indicates that the cause of the fire was “the use of fireworks during the wedding celebration,” leading to “the initial ignition of the hall” and then the fire spreading “rapidly.”
The Civil Defense added in a statement that the hall was “clad with Ecopan panels,” a building material made of aluminum and plastic that is “quick to ignite,” noting that the use of these panels in construction “violates safety regulations” stipulated by law.
According to the Civil Defense, “the fire led to the collapse of parts of the hall due to the use of highly flammable and low-cost building materials that collapsed within minutes of the fire breaking out.”
The Civil Defense explained that what exacerbated the situation was “the toxic gas emissions accompanying the burning of the rapidly igniting plastic Ecopan panels.” Among the injured was Rania Wad (17 years old), who suffered burns on her hand and was taken to the Hamdaniya Hospital along with her sister, who was also injured, to receive treatment.
The young woman said, “The bride and groom were dancing… when the fireworks flew to the ceiling, and the whole hall caught fire.” She added, “After that, we could no longer see anything; we just suffocated and didn’t know how to get out,” confirming that the number of invitees to the wedding was “very large.”
Journalists saw civil defense and police personnel searching with the help of the lights of their mobile phones and flashlights the ruins of the burnt hall, while only its iron structure remained of the hall’s ceiling. Following the tragedy, Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi said in a statement that he had asked the “Interior and Health Ministers to mobilize all efforts to aid the victims of this unfortunate accident.” The Ministry of Health also announced “the mobilization of the ministry’s departments in Nineveh province and the neighboring governorates to provide assistance and treatment to the injured” and “the dispatch of medical reinforcements from Baghdad and other governorates.”
Hamdaniya, also known as Qaraqosh and Baghdeda, is an ancient Christian town whose residents speak a modern dialect of Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ. Pope Francis visited it in March 2021 during his historic tour of Iraq. This town suffered significant destruction at the hands of the Islamic State organization, which controlled large areas of Iraq between 2014 and 2017.
Safety regulations are often not followed in Iraq, especially in the construction and transportation sectors. Additionally, the country’s infrastructure is vulnerable due to decades of conflict, often leading to deadly fires and other disasters. In April 2021, more than 80 people died in a fire at a COVID-19 hospital in Baghdad caused by oxygen cylinder explosions. A few months later, in July of the same year, 64 people were killed in a fire at a hospital in Nasiriyah in southern Iraq that broke out in a COVID-19 patient ward.