“Nineveh Tragedy”: Fire destroyed a wedding party and hundreds were charred along with chairs
Everything happened minutes before midnight on Tuesday, when fire engulfed an event hall in the city of Hamdaniya (northeast of Mosul), trapping hundreds of participants in a local wedding. The tragedy ended with the death and injury of hundreds, most of whom died from suffocation or being trampled as a result of the stampede at an exit door one meter wide.
The newlyweds were dancing in the middle of a large circle of revelers, when flames fell from the ceiling of the hall, as video clips circulated on social networking sites showed, including a shot that showed fireworks inside the hall, the flames of which suddenly reached the ceiling studded with decorations and lighting, and that’s when the disaster began.
A man from the Civil Defense inspects an event hall after putting out the fire in Al-Hamdaniya, Nineveh Governorate, Iraq (AFP)
The Iraqi Civil Defense said, “The fire led to the collapse of parts of the hall, as a result of the use of highly flammable, low-cost building materials that collapse within minutes when a fire breaks out,” according to the official news agency.
The final death toll figures were conflicted between three Iraqi officials, until five in the afternoon local time, that is, about 20 hours after the fire occurred. The Minister of Interior said that the latest statistics recorded by the Nineveh Health Directorate were 93 dead and more than 100 injured.
Health Minister Saleh Al-Hasnawi confirmed, in a statement to the media, that the fire resulted in at least 87 deaths and more than 100 injuries, while the head of the Security Media Cell, Saad Maan, spoke of the deaths of 93 people and the injury of 100 others.
Firefighters inspect the damage in an event hall after a fire broke out during a wedding in Al-Hamdaniya, Nineveh Governorate, Iraq (AFP)
Although local and Arab media reported that the newlyweds died in the fire, a doctor in Erbil and a relative of the bride confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that they were alive and suffering from a nervous breakdown and minor burns.
Local medical reports indicate that the death toll from the fire may exceed 120 people who lost their lives due to severe burns or suffocation, while doctors from Mosul Hospital say that they received dozens of dead children during the night.
The Iraqi government declared a three-day general mourning for the victims of the Hamdaniyah incident, according to a statement from the office of Prime Minister Muhammad al-Sudani, after the Governor of Nineveh, Najm al-Jubouri, decided to mourn for a week and postpone the celebrations of the Prophet’s birthday until further notice.
One of the survivors of the fire, whom Asharq Al-Awsat met in one of Erbil’s hospitals, said that the fire spread to the ceiling at a frightening speed, and fiery masses fell on our heads, terrifying everyone and pushing them toward the emergency door (…) It was only a single door, with dozens crowded around it.
Iraqi Interior Minister Abdul Amir al-Shammari inspects the burned wedding hall after a deadly fire that claimed dozens of lives (dpa)
“I saw children crawling under the tables, screaming, and on the other side there were mothers calling out to look for them (…) The fire was isolating the families from each other, and in the end the men came pushing their families towards the door,” says another survivor, who was lying on a hospital bed. In Erbil.
According to this injured person, he “saw refrigerant gas pipes explode inside the hall due to the fire.”
A man from Al-Hamdaniya said he did not attend the ceremony, but he came to the site of the fire to inspect his family members, who were six people, and it was finally confirmed that they had died, and according to the Civil Defense, they were charred along with the chairs they were sitting on during the ceremony.
A civil defense officer in Mosul said that the preliminary investigation indicated that the complete darkness inside the hall as a result of the power outage caused a stampede and a delay in the evacuation of the revelers.
An injured man walks among people in front of a burning hall during a wedding party in the town of Hamdaniya (AFP)
Another officer, who supervised the rescue operations, said, “The Hamdaniyah fire may be the largest in Iraq during the past ten years.”
It took civil defense men long hours to search for the missing among the rubble, and some of them were seen stuck between charred tables trying to pull out the bodies. “It was a painful scene (…) I could not bear to see a hand sticking out from among a pile of iron,” says one of the rescue personnel.
Ambulances rushed from Hamdaniya and Mosul, which are about 35 kilometers away, to transport the injured, while ambulances transported dozens of them to Erbil hospitals. According to various medical sources, the percentage of burns and wounds exceeded 50 percent.
Dozens flocked to hospitals in Mosul and Hamdaniya on Wednesday morning to donate blood, while the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Masrour Barzani, said that he “decided to send the necessary medical aid, and directed the opening of the region’s hospitals to provide the necessary treatment for the wounded.”
An ambulance from Mosul carrying the body of a victim of a fatal fire at a wedding party in the Hamdaniyah district of Nineveh Governorate in Iraq (Reuters)
During media coverage of the rescue operations, a woman from the town of Hamdaniya appeared on Wednesday morning, searching for her mother. As soon as she and a television reporter entered the charred hall, she accidentally found her jacket among the ashes, and she collapsed crying.
A civil defense officer told Asharq Al-Awsat that “there are still children missing under the rubble.”
The Ministry of Interior formed an investigation committee into the Al-Hamdaniya incident, and confirmed that it had suspended the management of the hall, and had taken legal measures against its owner.
From the scene of the accident, Major General Dr. Saad Maan outlines the details of the accident in Al-Hamdaniya district in Nineveh Governorate pic.twitter.com/gxKAFY0sNV
– Saad Maan – Saad Maan (@saadmaanoficial) September 27, 2023
The Interior Ministry’s announcement came after Minister Abdul Amir al-Shammari arrived at the site of the fire, alongside Immigration Minister Evan Fayeq, coinciding with news indicating that the owner of the hall had fled to an unknown destination, after pulling the tapes of internal surveillance cameras.
A senior officer told Asharq Al-Awsat, “A special security force followed the owner of the hall and detained him for investigation and taking legal measures, while before that they arrested four people who were supervising the organization of the wedding.”
Later, the “Kurdistan Security Council,” known as the “Asayish,” announced the arrest of the owner of the “Al-Haitham” hall for events in the Al-Hamdaniya district, against the backdrop of a lawsuit on charges of violating safety procedures and causing a fire in the Al-Hamdaniya hall.
Activists on social media circulated information about the hall’s owner’s connection to the leaders of the armed factions in Al-Hamdaniya, and that the local authorities ignored his violation of safety conditions in building the hall, due to his relations with influential parties.
An army member stands in front of an event hall following a deadly fire at a wedding party in Al-Hamdaniya, Nineveh Governorate, Iraq (Reuters)
It is difficult to verify this news, but the region is actually controlled by two armed formations affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Forces, around which suspicions of corruption have been raised related to collecting money from investors and private project owners in the region.
However, the head of the Security Media Cell, Saad Maan, confirmed that the fire was not due to a “criminal crime.”
The fire reminded the Iraqis of a chronic defect in construction projects, as their owners resort to using “cobond” material because of its cheap price in the markets, but it is highly flammable, and the use of this material has been associated with the majority of fire incidents in Iraq over the past years.
A senior government official told Asharq Al-Awsat that dealing with this recurring type of fire requires a review – which may take a long time – of the controls on importing construction materials, in addition to a review of the role of the regulatory agencies concerned with verifying the quality and safety of buildings.
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