Status: 27/09/2023, 12:35 p.m.
The hall in Al-Hamdaniyah, Iraq, collapsed and burned out in a fire. © Ismael Adnan/dpa
Fireworks are a popular way in Iraq to add extra emphasis to joy. Now they are causing a fire at a wedding with dozens of deaths.
Baghdad - The bride and groom danced slowly to the music as the ceiling went up in flames: About 100 people have died in a fire at a wedding celebration in Iraq. The governor of the province of Nineveh, Najim al-Jaburi, spoke of 114 dead and 200 injured after the disaster in the town of Al-Hamdaniya on Wednesday night. The Iraqi Interior Ministry on Wednesday called lower casualty figures: 93 people had died and more than 100 were injured. Nine people were in mortal danger.
Police and rescue workers at the scene of the deadly fire. © Farid Abdulwahed/AP
The wedding evening turned into a tragedy when firecrackers ignited highly flammable material in the hall. Videos on social networks showed guests dancing and chatting at tables shortly before the fire. According to the initial findings of the Ministry of the Interior, when someone set off fireworks, burning parts fell from the ceiling.
Highly flammable material in the hall caused it to burst into flames and collapse in a short time. © Ismael Adnan/dpa
Wedding guests jumped up from tables and tried to get to safety, as seen in a video. The wedding couple stands in shock on the dance floor, where a live band was playing.
Authority: No mandatory alarm system
The groom's cousin described the moments to the local TV channel Al-Mauslija from her hospital bed. "They (the couple) danced slowly, while candles gave off warm light," the woman said, wrapped in a blanket while her makeup and glittering ball gown evoked the night. "When we saw that the ceiling was on fire, we all ran away." Eyewitnesses later said that the newlyweds survived.
"The fire led to the partial collapse of the hall because highly flammable, cheap building materials were used, which collapse within minutes in the event of a fire," the civil defense authority said. The use of the materials had violated safety requirements, and the hall had not had a prescribed alarm system. According to the Ministry of the Interior, the combination of fireworks, highly flammable building materials and violations of safety regulations also led to the emergency.
Search for survivors
Rescue workers searched for survivors under the rubble and rubble of the burnt-out hall. Crowds of people gathered in front of the scene of the accident at night. Local TV stations showed images of corpses and ambulances covered with cloths.
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Health Ministry spokesman Saif al-Badr said early in the morning that the situation was under control. MP Ichlas al-Dulaimi spoke of a "major disaster" in an interview with the TV channel Rudaw. Governor Al-Jaburi ordered a week-long mourning in the province and canceled the current celebrations in honor of the Prophet Mohammed for the time being, as the state agency INA reported.
The town of Al-Hamdaniya is located near Mosul in northwestern Iraq and about a five-hour drive from the capital Baghdad. Why highly flammable material was used in the construction of the hall remained unclear at first. However, corruption and mismanagement in Iraq also affect the construction sector - with consequences. In 2021, two serious fires in hospitals killed more than 170 people.
Arrests and arrest warrants
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, nine workers involved in the construction of the hall were arrested. In addition, arrest warrants were issued for four owners of the venue. A committee of inquiry is to clarify the exact circumstances of the accident. Initially, there were no indications of a possible criminal background.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani instructed the interior and health ministries to provide all possible assistance to those affected. He also declared a three-day nationwide mourning. President Abdul Latif Rashid described the incident as a "painful tragedy". The UN support mission in Iraq said it was "shocked and painful". Dpa