QARAQOSH, Iraq: At least 100 people were killed when a fire ripped through a crowded Iraqi wedding hall, officials said Wednesday, pointing to indoor fireworks as the likely cause for the blaze that sparked a panicked stampede for the exits.
More than 150 people were injured by the flames, the choking smoke or in the crush to flee the reception hall, which was reduced to charred debris and piles of twisted furniture under a partially collapsed ceiling.
“I thought there had been an explosion,” said Martin Idriss, 19, who was working in the kitchen when the fire broke out Tuesday evening in the venue in the mainly Christian northern city of Qaraqosh. “The flames were devouring the whole hall,” he said.
“When I went back in, I saw the charred bodies of three children,” he said, adding the venue’s emergency exits had proved “inadequate” for the hundreds of guests trying to escape.
Early reports and unverified video footage online suggested flares shot up sparkling flames that ignited ceiling decorations before the fire engulfed highly flammable construction materials.
Health authorities “counted 100 dead and more than 150 injured in the fire at a marriage hall in Hamdaniyah”, as the city is also known, Iraq’s official INA news agency reported in what it called a “preliminary tally”.
The casualty toll was confirmed to AFP by health ministry spokesman Saif al-Badr, who said most of the injured were being treated for burns, oxygen deprivation and crush injuries.
But the director of health services in Nineveh, Mansour Marouf, on Wednesday afternoon said 94 people had died, with their bodies transported to different hospitals. Only 30 of those had been immediately identified by their families, he told a news conference. The Iraqi Red Crescent, meanwhile, reported more than 450 casualties, without providing a breakdown of deaths and injuries.