Wedding inferno kills at least 100 in Iraq’s biggest Christian town; bride and groom survive

Bodies of people killed in a fire during a wedding in an event hall in Qaraqosh, also known as Hamdaniyah, are piled up at the morgue of a hospital in Mosul on September 27, 2023. At least 100 people were killed and more than 150 injured when the fire broke out. | ZAID AL-OBEIDI/AFP via Getty Images

Family members of a Christian bride and groom confirmed Wednesday that they survived a massive fire that erupted during their wedding celebration that killed at least 100 and injured more than 150 of their guests in Iraq’s biggest Christian town in northern Nineveh province Tuesday.

The bride and groom, who have been identified as Haneen and Ivan Esho, are receiving treatment at a hospital in Erbil, the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

Iraqi Joint Operations Command Spokesperson Major General Pilot Tahseen Al Khafaji told CNN that there were some 1,300 guests in attendance at the event when the fire broke out at approximately 10:45 p.m. local time. Survivors told Reuters that the guests had gathered at the banquet hall following an earlier church service. They were only inside for about one hour when fireworks ignited a fire among the decorations in the ceiling as the newlyweds danced.

“Initial information indicates that fireworks were used during the wedding ceremony, which initially ignited a fire inside the hall. The fire spread very quickly, and the matter was exacerbated by the toxic gas emissions associated with the burning of the highly flammable Ecobond plastic panels, which caused casualties and injuries among families,” a statement from Iraq’s Ministry of Interior said. “An investigation was also opened and a forensic expert was summoned to ascertain the causes of the fire.”

It was also noted by the ministry that the banquet hall was covered with highly flammable Ecobond panels which is a violation of local building codes. He said the quick spread of the fire caused parts of the building to collapse on the wedding party even though first responders were also quick to respond to the fire alarm.

The father of the groom who also confirmed that the couple had survived, said he blamed the owner of the banquet hall for the tragedy. Officials say warrants have already been issued for the arrest of the hall’s owners.

“I hold the owner of the hall responsible for what happened at the party because there are no extinguishers or safety measures in the hall,” he said as family members of the dead mourned their loved ones outside a morgue in the nearby city of Mosul, a Christian town that survived occupation by the Islamic State terrorist group.

"This was not a wedding. This was hell," Mariam Khedr told Reuters as she cried and hit herself while she waited for officials to return the bodies of her daughter, Rana Yakoub, 27, and three young grandchildren, who had attended the wedding.

Imad Yohana, a 34-year-old who escaped the fire, said some people got stuck in the hall trying to escape.

"We saw the fire pulsating, coming out of the hall,” he told Reuters. “Those who managed got out and those who didn't got stuck.”

"I lost my daughter, her husband and their 3-year-old,” another woman seen waiting outside the Mosul morgue told Reuters. “They were all burned. My heart is burning.”

A wedding guest told Iraqi channel Alawla TV that the bride and groom were devastated by the fire.

“The bride and groom are fine. I was just with them now, but their condition is devastating due to what happened to people here,” a guest said, according to CNN.

Video posted online shows hundreds of people lining up at local hospitals at 3 a.m. local time to give blood to help the survivors.

“There are hundreds of people injured, we are in need of blood,” Nader Salm, a 49-year-old translator from Qaraqosh, told CNN. “This tragedy hurt us more than ISIS. At least when ISIS came, we could escape, but now a wedding became a graveyard for us.”

Contact: Follow Leonardo Blair on Twitter: @leoblair Follow Leonardo Blair on Facebook: LeoBlairChristianPost

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