A raging fire seemingly caused by fireworks set off to celebrate a Christian wedding consumed a hall packed with guests in northern Iraq, killing around 100 people and injuring 150 others as authorities warned Wednesday the death toll could still rise.
Authorities said that flammable building materials also contributed to the latest disaster to hit Iraq’s dwindling Christian minority.
In the fire’s chaotic aftermath, officials offered conflicting death tolls and security officials said they detained staff at the wedding hall as part of their investigation. The fire happened in the Hamdaniya area of Iraq’s Nineveh province, authorities said.
That’s a predominantly Christian area just outside of the city of Mosul, some 335km northwest of Baghdad.
There was no official word on the cause of the blaze, but the Kurdish television news channel Rudaw aired footage showing pyrotechnics shooting flames up from the floor of the event and setting a chandelier aflame.
After the blaze, charred metal and debris could be seen as people walked through the scene of the fire, the only light coming from television cameras and the lights of onlookers’ mobile phones.
Survivors arrived at local hospitals in bandages, receiving oxygen, as their families milled through hallways and outside as workers organised more oxygen cylinders.
Some of those burned included children. Ambulance sirens wailed for hours after the fire as paramedics brought out the injured.
Other footage shown on other local television networks appeared to show the bride and groom on the dance floor when the fire began on Tuesday night, stunned by the sight of the burning debris. It wasn’t immediately clear if they were among those hurt.
“They were about to do a slow dance and then they lit up this thing for the dance which caught fire,” one injured woman told Rudaw from a hospital gurney.
Another man injured in the fire at the hospital similarly told Rudaw that the blaze started as the couple prepared for their slow dance.
“They lit up fireworks,” he said. “It hit the ceiling, which caught fire.”
He added: “The entire hall was on fire in seconds.”
Extravagant wedding ceremonies are common in Iraq, like many countries in West Asia. Families often invite hundreds of relatives and members of the broader community, spending heavily on spectacular ceremonies with elaborately decorated halls.