Officials: 41 killed, 14 injured in Coptic church fire in Cairo

Officials: 41 killed, 14 injured in Coptic church fire in Cairo
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CAIRO (AP) – At least 41 worshipers were killed and 14 injured when a fire ripped through a packed church during morning services in the Egyptian capital on Sunday.

The church was quickly filled with thick black smoke and several trapped congregants were seen jumping from the upper floors to escape. “Don’t drown, don’t drown, they’re all dead,” said a distraught witness, Abu Bishoy, who gave only a partial name.

The cause of the fire at the Abu Sefein Church in the working-class neighborhood of Imbaba was not immediately known. According to the police, the initial investigation pointed to a short circuit in the electrical wiring.

Images from the scene that have been shared online show charred furniture, including wooden tables and chairs. Firefighters extinguished the fire while others carried the victims to ambulances. Families were waiting for word about their relatives who were in the church.

Witnesses said there were many children inside the building when the fire broke out.

“There are children we didn’t know how to reach,” said Abu Bishoy. “And we don’t know whose son it is, whose daughter it is. Is this possible?”

The country’s health minister blamed the deaths on smoke and crowds as people tried to escape the fire. It was one of the worst fire tragedies in Egypt in recent years.

Eyewitness Emad Hanna said there were two places in the church that were used as daycare centers for children, and the church worker was able to take many children out.

“We went up and saw people dying. And we started to see from the outside that the smoke was getting bigger and bigger and people wanted to jump from the upper floor. … We found the children.”

Egypt’s Coptic Church and the country’s health ministry announced the death toll. The church said the fire broke out during worship. The church is located on a narrow street in one of the most densely populated neighborhoods of Cairo.

Officials said that 15 fire engines were sent to the scene to put out the flames, and ambulances took the injured to nearby hospitals.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi spoke by phone with the Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II to express his condolences. The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayib, also expressed his condolences to the head of the Coptic Church.

El-Sissi wrote on Facebook: “I am closely following the development of the tragic accident.” “I have instructed all the relevant state institutions and organizations to take all the necessary measures and immediately deal with this accident and its consequences.”

The Minister of Health Khalid Abdel-Ghafar said in his statement that two of the injured were discharged from the hospital, while 12 people were being treated.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs said that it received information about the fire at 9 a.m. local time and determined that the fire occurred in the air conditioner on the second floor of the building.

The ministry, which oversees police and firefighters, blamed an electrical short circuit for the fire, which produced large amounts of smoke. Meanwhile, the country’s chief prosecutor, Hameda al-Sawi, ordered an investigation and a group of prosecutors was sent to the church.

Later on Sunday, emergency services said they had managed to put out the fire and the prime minister and other senior government officials had arrived to inspect the area.

Egypt’s Christians make up about 10% of the country’s more than 103 million people and have long complained of discrimination by the country’s Muslim majority.

Sunday’s fire was one of the worst fire tragedies in recent years in Egypt, where safety standards and fire regulations are poorly enforced. In March last year, at least 20 people were killed and 24 injured in a fire in a sewing factory near Cairo.

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