A fire tore through a full wedding hall in northern Iraq late on Tuesday, killing more than 100 people in a Christian village that had survived Islamic State rule, as officials launched an inquiry into the blaze.
Firefighters worked into the morning on Wednesday to explore the burned-out remains of the Qaraqoush building, as grieving family members gathered outside a mortuary in Mosul, a nearby city, and rocked and wept.
“This was not a wedding. This was hell,” said Mariam Khedr.
As she waited for authorities to return the remains of her daughter Rana Yakoub, 27, and three little grandchildren, the youngest of whom was just eight months old, she sobbed and struck herself.
The fire started about an hour into the wedding party, which came after an earlier church ceremony, when pyrotechnics burned a ceiling decoration while the bride and groom danced, according to survivors.
Hassan al-Allaq, the deputy governor of Nineveh province, told Reuters that 113 deaths had been officially confirmed. According to state media, at least 100 deaths and 150 injuries had been reported.
According to official media, the interior minister, Abdul Amir al-Shammari, said that flares fired during the celebration started a fire in the roof that spread to a sizable event hall in Hamdaniya.
A video of the incident that was shared on social media claimed to show the flares hitting a sparkling ceiling ornament and setting it ablaze while noises of enthusiasm suddenly turned into screams.
Another video showed a couple dancing while wearing wedding attire as flaming debris started to fall to the ground.
When Islamic State took control of Qaraqoush in 2014, the majority of the town’s residents—who are primarily Christians but also include some members of Iraq’s Yazidi minority—fled the area. But when the group was disbanded in 2017, they came back.
State media stated that the Interior Ministry had issued four arrest warrants for the owners of the wedding facility, and President Abdul Latif Rashid requested an inquiry.
34-year-old Imad Yohana said, “We saw the fire pulsating, coming out of the hall. Those who managed got out and those who didn’t got stuck.” He had escaped the fire.
Firefighters could be seen climbing over the burning building’s debris in a video from the scene as they shone lights over the charred remains.
According to preliminary evidence, the structure was constructed using extremely combustible materials, which may have accelerated its collapse, according to official media.
Witnesses on the scene said that the structure took fire about 1945 UTC (02:45 am MUT).
“I lost my daughter, her husband and their 3 year-old. They were all burned. My heart is burning,” a woman said outside the morgue where remains were lying in bags while cars arrived to pick up those who had been recognised.
Youssef, a male, was standing close with burns on his hands and face. He claimed that when the fire started and the electricity went out, he was unable to see anything. He had managed to escape while holding onto his 3-year-old grandson.
However, his 50-year-old wife Bashra Mansour did not survive. She died after falling amid a commotion.