‘We’re All Dead’: Iraqis In Shock After Wedding Fire

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At the cemetery in the northern city of Qaraqosh, mourners gathered around the clergy from various churches, chanting prayers in Syriac and delivering sermons in Arabic.

Some of the faithful held up portraits of deceased loved ones.

The day before, those in the pictures had gathered in an elegant banqueting hall to attend a wedding.

But as the bride and groom danced, a fire erupted in the reception hall, killing at least 100 people and injuring 150 others.

By all accounts, the fire spread at a rapid rate.

Footage shared on social media showed indoor fireworks flaring so high that they set ceiling decorations alight.

On Wednesday, one by one, around 20 coffins covered in satin or bouquets of flowers were carried through the crowd on the shoulders of men.

They were followed by women in tears, all dressed in black and supported on either side as they were barely able to stand up on their own.

Crowds Swarm Cemetery

Samira, a 53-year-old housewife, came to bury 15 members of her family, “from the father to the youngest child, aged four”, she said in a melancholy tone.“We still have to bury a man and his two twin daughters. They’re dead but we haven’t recovered the bodies,” she added. Other burials are planned in the coming days.

She paused and took a deep breath, saying: “That’s enough, I can’t talk any more”. But she continued anyway.

“There’s no sentiment possible; we’re all dead,” the 50-year-old said. “There isn’t a single person who hasn’t lost a family member or a friend.”

Mourners attend the funeral of victims who were killed when a fire ripped through a crowded wedding hall in the mainly Christian northern city of Qaraqosh, also known as Hamdaniyah, on September 27, 2023. (Photo by Zaid AL-OBEIDI / AFP)

The crowd that swarmed the cemetery chanted “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” before singing liturgical hymns.

When approached by journalists, several people refused to comment.

In front of the family vaults lining the cemetery lanes, men and women wept loudly and let out cries of anguish.

One woman knelt to kiss the portrait of a young woman.

‘Terrible Flames’

A firefighter checks the damage in an event hall in Qaraqosh, also known as Hamdaniyah, after a fire broke out during a wedding, killing at least 100 people and injuring more than 150, on September 27, 2023. (Photo by Safin HAMID / AFP)

The civil defence said the reception hall had been fitted with prefabricated panels that were “highly flammable and contravened safety standards”.

They caught fire immediately on contact with indoor fireworks.

The panicked guests were caught in a stampede and unable to escape in time from the hall, which the civil defence said lacked sufficient emergency exits.

“While the bride and groom were dancing, the sprays of sparks were activated,” said Ronak Sabih, a 41-year-old survivor.

“There were feather decorations on the ceiling and they caught fire. The flames were terrible,” said the man who returned on Wednesday to inspect the site of the disaster.

“My family were on the floor and I started pulling them out. There were people on top of us. We started screaming,” he said breathlessly.

“We called the fire brigade. We called everyone,” he said.

“From that door I pulled out bodies. I carried them in my arms. We wrapped them in blankets to take them to hospital.”

AFP

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