Maternity ward fire leaves 31dead in Saudi Arabia
A fire ripped through a hospital in Saudi Arabia on Thursday, killing at least 31 people, including a child, and injuring 141, the authorities said.
The cause of the fire appeared to be electrical, and it swept through the hospital in just 3 minutes, a witness told a local channel.
“We could hear women screaming,” he added.
Twenty-one civil defence teams were involved in putting out the fire.
Alriyadh daily quoted a civil defence spokesman as saying that the agency was alerted of the fire at 2 am (2300 GMT Wednesday).
Prince Mohammed bin Nasser, Governor of Jazan, visited the hospital and ordered immediate investigation into the cause of the fire.
Jazan General, an important hospital in the heart of the city, was in the headlines in 2013 after four officials were sacked in connection with a case of a 12-year-old girl who was given a HIV-contaminated blood transfusion..
Thursday’s fire sparked a wave of criticism among social media users who complained that Jizan province, especially its hospitals, suffer from inadequate infrastructure.
A video showed a man attempting to open a closed emergency exit in the hospital. It led to various calls demanding that the Civil Defense should come up with firm procedures to ensure that all exit points at different government and private institutions should always remain open to facilitate rescue efforts in case of emergencies.
“We must be frank. Jizan had been neglected by the state” for decades, wrote a Twitter user named Ahmed.
“Maybe this catastrophe could put the spotlight on the disastrous situation of hospitals in Jazan… Even though we have little hope” for this, wrote another user.
Others called for health minister Khalid al-Falih to be sacked.
“Does the health minister have the courage to submit his resignation after the fire at Jazan General Hospital? What disaster lies after this calamity?” tweeted one person, whose account identified him as Mohammed Alsubaie, from Riyadh.
Criticism of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family is frowned upon, but the comments online pointed to a series of infrastructure accidents in the kingdom over the past year.
A deadly crush at the haj in Mecca in September killed 769 people, according to Saudi officials. Reuters calculations based on numbers provided by the pilgrims’ home countries showed the death toll was at least 2,070.
Two weeks earlier, 110 people died in Mecca’s Grand Mosque when a crane working on an expansion project collapsed during a storm, crushing pilgrims below.
In August, 10 people were killed and 259 wounded in a fire at a residential complex rented by oil giant Saudi Aramco in the kingdom’s Eastern Province.
That fire was ignited by an electric short circuit in the underground car park, according to the authorities.
Civilians in Jazan have also been victims of frequent missile attacks by Iran-backed rebels in neighbouring Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition has been battling the Shiite Huthi insurgents and their allies since March.