Card. Sako's 'sadness and sorrow' at Nassiriya Covid ward blaze

The death toll in the devastating fire has risen to 92, with over a hundred injured. The Chaldean Primate calls for "unity" to "raise the nation" and prevent similar "disasters" in the future. The condolences and prayers of Pope Francis. A doctor at the facility denounces the absence of security systems. 

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - The Chaldean Church and its patriarch, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, express "deep sadness and sorrow for the tragic incident" at the Imam Hussein Teaching Hospital in Nassiriya "where more than 90 people died and many others were injured".

In a note sent to AsiaNews following the fire that broke out in the Covid ward of the hospital in the southern Iraqi city, just a few months after a similar incident occurred in a facility in the capital, the cardinal wroted "in offering condolences and solidarity to the families of the victims, expresses its closeness and prayers so that God may grant the victims His vast mercy". 

The leaders of the Iraqi Church express the hope is that "this national catastrophe" may "awaken the consciences" of the country's officials and administrators, so that "they may be free from absurd fights" that end up only causing division. This, he added, is the time to "fortify ourselves, join hands and take responsibility" to "overcome this difficult phase" and get the nation "back on its feet" in full "security, stability and guarantee of services, so that such disasters are not repeated in the future". 

Condolences and spiritual closeness to the victims were also expressed by Pope Francis in a telegram signed by the secretary of state and sent to the apostolic nuncio in Iraq. The pontiff, who recently underwent surgery and who on Sunday in the Angelus recited in the hospital stressed the importance of an efficient healthcare system, "prays in a special way for the dead" and "invokes God's blessing, consolation and peace for the families, staff and caregivers".

The updated toll of the devastating fire that broke out in the night of 12-13 July in the temporary Covid ward set up near the hospital has risen to 92 dead, with over a hundred injured, some of them seriously. An initial investigation by the police and civil defence revealed that the flames originated from faulty wiring and hit an oxygen cylinder, which then exploded, causing the tragedy. 

In the meantime, anger is mounting in the country, especially among the families of the victims, and political controversy is raging in Parliament, not sparing the highest government officials, with widespread accusations of negligence and corruption. Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi called for national mourning, stressing that "what happened in Nassiriya is a deep wound in the conscience of all Iraqis". He then ordered the arrest of the provincial director of healthcare services, the head of civil defence and the hospital director.

Rescue teams used a heavy crane to remove the charred and melted remains of the burnt Covid ward, while relatives watched helplessly and in despair. At least 20 bodies were burnt to a crisp and can only be identified through DNA testing. Most of the patients in the hospital," explains Dr Aws Adel, "were breathing on ventilators and could not move. Doctors and nurses managed to escape. A hospital doctor, interviewed by Reuters on condition of anonymity, confirmed the absence of safety mecchanisms, including a fire-fighting system capable of extinguishing the flames. "We have complained many times in the last three months that a similar tragedy could have happened at any time, even over a cigarette butt," the doctor concluded. 

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