A marriage that turns into a nightmare. At least 100 people died and 150 others were injured Tuesday night in a fire during a mega wedding held in a party hall in northern Iraq, according to a "preliminary assessment", announced Wednesday by the authorities.
According to rescuers, "fireworks" and "highly flammable building materials" were at the origin of the flames that ravaged the sumptuous reception hall where several hundred guests were gathered for a wedding organized in the small Christian town of Qaraqosh, also known as Hamdaniyah.
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After midnight on Wednesday, an AFP photographer saw several ambulances arrive with sirens blaring at the city's main hospital, east of Mosul. Several dozen people were massed in the courtyard of the establishment, relatives of victims or residents coming to donate their blood. Residents were also massed in front of the open doors of a refrigerated truck where several black body bags were deposited, according to the photographer.
Burns, asphyxiation and jostling
Health authorities in Nineveh, the province where Qaraqosh is located, "recorded 100 deaths and more than 150 injured in a fire at a wedding hall in Hamdaniyah." A balance sheet confirmed by the spokesman of the Ministry of Health Saif al-Badr. "Most of the injured are suffering from burns and asphyxiation," he said, also reporting stampedes. For its part, the Iraqi Red Crescent reported "more than 450 people" killed and wounded, without providing a specific toll for those dead.
The Civil Defence reported the presence of prefabricated signs "highly flammable and contrary to safety standards" in the village hall. "Preliminary information indicates that fireworks were used during a wedding which started a fire in the hall," the statement added. On social networks, the videos shared seem to confirm this hypothesis.
At least 100 people have died and 150 others injured after a fire broke out at a wedding in northern Iraq. pic.twitter.com/b5FrMY7SVx
— Moshe Schwartz (@YWNReporter) September 27, 2023
The flames caused "parts of the ceiling to fall, due to the use of highly flammable and inexpensive building materials," according to the same source. The danger was aggravated "by the toxic gas emissions related to the combustion of the panels" containing plastic.
"The whole room went up in flames"
The bride and groom "were dancing slowly, the fireworks started to rise towards the ceiling, the whole room went up in flames," says a teenager suffering from burns to her hand. "We couldn't see anything, we suffocated, we didn't know how to get out," she adds.
Among the ruins of the village hall, the AFP photographer was able to see rescuers and police inspecting by the light of torches and mobile phones the site where iron chairs are piled up in the middle of the rubble, under the scrap metal that hangs from the ceiling.
More than 100 people were killed and 150 injured in a fire at a wedding party in Hamdaniya district in Iraq's Nineveh province that left civil defense searching the charred skeleton of a building for survivors https://t.co/cpYiqyIyHd pic.twitter.com/LFlInZoSvw
— Reuters (@Reuters) September 27, 2023
In a succinct statement on Wednesday, Prime Minister Mohamed Chia al-Sudani called on health and interior ministers to "mobilize all rescue efforts" to help the victims of the Hamdaniyah tragedy.
For its part, the Ministry of Health announced "the dispatch of trucks of medical aid" from Baghdad and other provinces of the country, assuring that its teams in Nineveh were mobilized to "treat the wounded".