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Cairo church fire leaves 41 dead, 55 injured

Monday, August 15th 2022 - 08:19 UTC
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Bishop Abdul Masih Bakhit was among the dead Bishop Abdul Masih Bakhit was among the dead

At least 41 people, 15 children among them, were killed Sunday at the Martyr Abu Sefein Coptic Orthodox church in Cairo's working-class neighborhood of Imbaba in the Giza area. There were also reports of some 55 other people injured.

“I offer my sincere condolences to the families of the innocent victims who moved to the side of their Lord in one of the houses of worship,” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi posted on Twitter. “I am closely following the developments of the tragic accident,” el-Sissi wrote on Facebook. “I directed all concerned state agencies and institutions to take all necessary measures, and immediately deal with this accident and its effects.”

Hospital documents showed the dead children were aged 3 to 16. Local authorities also reported that a stampede had increased the number of fatalities, while five first responders were among the injured. According to unofficial sources, the cause of the blaze was believed to be an electrical short-circuit.

The fire started at about 9 am local time apparently due to an electrical failure in an air conditioning unit on the second floor, Egypt's Interior Ministry said.

A worker from an adjacent bakery said he tried to help, but when he forced his way through a door, he saw children's bodies piled on top of each other. “A horrible scene,” he said. “This was probably the nursery.”

Coptic Church spokesperson Archpriest Moussa Ibrahim said the fire was believed to have been accidental. He added that a priest was among those killed.

“People were gathering on the third and fourth floor, and we saw smoke coming from the second floor. People rushed to go down the stairs and started falling on top of each other,” a worshipper identified as Yasir Munir told Reuters.

Photos and videos of the aftermath of the fire show charred pieces of furniture strewn across the burnt-out rooms of the church. Pictures taken while the church was ablaze show thick plumes of black smoke billowing out of the church windows. “The bodies are all charred, and many of them are children, who were in a nursery room in the church,” Maher Murad, a man who lost his sister in the fire told the news service.

Although Sunday's was one of the worst fire tragedies in Egypt in recent years, the country has seen similar tragedies in the past. In 2020, 14 Covid-19 patients died in two hospital blazes, while in March 2021, at least 20 people were killed in a fire at a textile factory in an eastern suburb of Cairo.

A list of victims obtained by The Associated Press said 20 bodies, including 10 children, were taken to the Imbaba public hospital. Three were siblings, twins aged 5 and a 3-year-old, it said. The church bishop, Abdul Masih Bakhit, was also among the dead at the hospital morgue. Twenty-one bodies were taken to other hospitals.

The church is located in a narrow street in one of the most densely populated parts of Cairo, where Sunday is the first working day of the week, and traffic jams clog the streets in Imbaba and surrounding areas in the morning.

Some witnesses also pointed out that ambulances and firefighters “came after people had died” and “after the church burned down.” Fifteen firefighting units were involved and Health Minister Khaled Abdel-Ghafar claimed the first ambulance had arrived at the site two minutes after the fire was reported. Two of the injured were discharged from a hospital while the others were still being treated, Abdel-Ghafar also said.

Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly said surviving victims and families of the dead would receive payments as compensation and that the government would rebuild the church.

Christians account for some 10% of Egypt's population of more than 103 million.

Categories: Politics, International.
Tags: Cairo, Egypt.

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