113 killed, over 150 injured as fire engulfs wedding party in Iraq

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 told the Reuters news agency that 113 people have been confirmed dead so far. The fire was reported to have started at approximately 10:45pm local time (19:45 GMT) on Tuesday night.

Najim al-Jubouri, the provincial governor of Nineveh, cautioned early on Wednesday that there were no final casualty figures yet from the blaze, which suggests the death toll still may rise.

“All efforts are being made to provide relief to those affected by the unfortunate accident,” Iraq’s health ministry spokesman Saif al-Badr said.

Iraq’s official INA news agency reported earlier that more than 150 people were also injured in the blaze, which engulfed an event hall in the province’s Hamdaniyah district where the wedding celebration was taking place. Hamdaniyah is located outside of the northern city of Mosul, some 400km (about 250 miles) northwest of the capital Baghdad.

Iraq’s civil defence said initial reports indicated that fireworks used during the celebration 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.

Security forces keep watch next to ambulances at a hospital where people have been taken for treatment following a fire that engulfed a wedding celebration in Iraq’s Nineveh province on September 27, 2023.

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.

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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.

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.

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 panelling 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 begins, stunned by the sight of the burning debris. It was not immediately clear if they were among those hurt in the blaze.

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 told the French news agency AFP, choking back sobs.

“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.

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