At least 113 people have been killed and more than 150 injured in a fire that ripped through a wedding celebration in Iraq’s northern Nineveh province, local officials and emergency services said.
Nineveh Deputy Governor Hassan al-Allaq confirmed the death toll, which may yet rise. The fire was reported to have started at approximately 10:45pm local time (19:45 GMT) on Tuesday night.
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The fire engulfed a wedding hall in Nineveh’s Hamdaniya district, where the celebration was taking place. Hamdaniya, also known as Qaraqosh, is a majority Christian town, and is located outside of the northern city of Mosul, some 400km (about 250 miles) northwest of the capital Baghdad.
“All efforts are being made to provide relief to those affected by the unfortunate accident,” Iraq’s health ministry spokesman Saif al-Badr said.
On Wednesday, funerals were already taking place for the victims of the fire, as mourning relatives gathered outside a morgue in Mosul.
“This was not a wedding. This was hell,” said Mariam Khedr, crying and hitting herself as she waited for officials to return the bodies of her daughter Rana Yakoub, 27, and three young grandchildren, the youngest aged just eight months.
Iraq’s civil defence said initial reports indicated that fireworks may have been the cause of the fire. “Preliminary information indicates that fireworks were used during a wedding, which triggered a fire in the hall,” civil defence authorities said in a statement early on Wednesday.
Fireworks set ceiling on fire
Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from Baghdad, said that fireworks are a common feature of wedding celebrations in Iraq and that some 1,000 people were reported to have been present at the celebration when the fire broke out.
Flammable material used in the construction of the event hall is suspected to have contributed to the huge blaze, Abdelwahed said, adding that the building did not appear to have “proper safety measures in place”, including emergency exits.
Iraq’s civil defence also reported the presence of prefabricated panels at the event hall that were “highly flammable and contravened safety standards”.
“The fire caused some parts of the ceiling to fall due to the use of highly flammable, low-cost construction materials,” civil defence authorities said in their statement.
The danger was compounded by the “release of toxic gases linked to the combustion of the panels”, which contained plastic.
Images from the aftermath of the fire showed emergency workers clambering over rubble and a collapsed roof with twisted and charred metal at the gutted event hall.
“We saw the fire pulsating, coming out of the hall. Those who managed got out and those who didn’t got stuck,” said Imad Yohana, a 34-year-old who escaped the inferno.
Another woman also lost several members of her family.
“I lost my daughter, her husband and their three-year-old. They were all burned. My heart is burning,” a woman said outside the morgue, where bodies lay outside in bags.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani ordered an investigation into the fire and asked the country’s interior and health ministry officials to provide relief, his office said in a statement online.
Iraq’s interior ministry has said that it has issued four arrest warrants for the owners of the wedding hall, state media has reported.
The majority of the injured are suffering from burns and asphyxiation, the health ministry’s al-Badr said, adding that there had also been crowd crushes at the scene.
Video clips posted on social media and purportedly taken in the moments before the fire takes hold show burning pieces of paneling falling from the ceiling of the hall. Wedding guests are also seen jumping up from tables and attempting to flee to safety.
Kurdish television news channel Rudaw later broadcasted video footage apparently shot by a guest at the wedding, which showed fireworks shooting up from the floor and setting a chandelier overhead ablaze, to the horror of those gathered inside.
Other footage appeared to show the bride and groom on the dance floor when the fire began, stunned by the sight of the burning debris. Al Jazeera’s Abdelwahed said that the couple are alive, but had suffered burns.
Wedding attendee Rania Waad, who sustained a burn to her hand, said that as the bride and groom “were slow dancing, the fireworks started to climb to the ceiling, the whole hall went up in flames”.
“We couldn’t see anything,” the 17-year-old said.
“We were suffocating; we didn’t know how to get out.”
Iraq’s ministry of health said that “medical aid trucks” have been dispatched to Nineveh from Baghdad and other provinces.