At least 44 people were killed and 67 injured in the blaze which was most likely caused by the explosion of an oxygen tank.
The tragedy occurred at a coronavirus hospital in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriya, health officials and police said on Monday.
“Health teams carried charred bodies out of the burning hospital as many patients coughed from the rising smoke,” a Reuters reporter told the site of the blaze.
Nasiriya health officials said search operations at al-Hussain’s coronavirus hospital continued after the blaze had been brought under control, but thick smoke made it difficult to enter some of the wards. set on fire.
“Raging fires have trapped many patients inside the coronavirus ward and rescue teams are struggling to reach them,” a health worker said before entering the burning building.
Initial police reports suggested that an oxygen tank explosion inside the hospital’s Covid departments was the likely cause of the blaze, a police officer at the scene of the blaze said.
“I heard a big explosion inside the coronavirus wards, then a fire broke out very quickly,” said Ali Muhsin, a hospital warden who was helping to keep injured patients away from the fires.
In April, a fire caused by the explosion of an oxygen tank at a Covid hospital in Baghdad left at least 82 dead and 110 injured.
Health sources said earlier that the death toll in Monday’s blaze could rise as many patients were still missing.
Two health workers were among the dead, they said.
Angry relatives gathered outside the hospital and clashed with police, setting two police vehicles on fire, a witness said.
As rescuers walked through the charred building with smoke, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi held urgent meetings with senior ministers and ordered the suspension and arrest of health and civil defense officials in Nasiriya, his office said in a statement.
The hospital director was also suspended and ordered his arrest, the statement added.
Already decimated by war and sanctions, the Iraqi health system has struggled to cope with the coronavirus crisis, which has left 17,592 dead and infected more than 1.4 million people.
During the coronavirus crisis, hospitals faced an influx of patients and shortages of supplies.