A fire at a packed Coptic Orthodox church during morning services near the Egyptian capital has killed 41 believers, including at least 10 children.
Faced with thick black smoke from the upper floors of the Church of the Martyrs Abu Sefain, several trapped people jumped down to escape the raging flames, according to witnesses.
“Suffocation, suffocation, all dead,” said a distraught eyewitness who gave only a partial name, Abu Bishoi.
“We have children and we didn’t know how to contact them,” said Abu Bishoi.
Forty-five people were injured, including four police officers involved in the rescue operation.
Crying families waited outside for news of relatives inside the church and nearby hospitals where the victims had been taken.
Flames erupted in a church in the working-class town of Imbaba in Greater Cairo’s Giza city, where about 5,000 people had gathered. Giza is Egypt’s second largest city and is located across from Cairo.
In a statement, the interior ministry said forensic examination showed that an electrical fault had resulted in a fire in an air conditioner on the second floor.
Smoke inhalation was the main cause of death. The families of the deceased will receive 100,000 Egyptian pounds ($5,220), according to a cabinet statement.
“All measures exhausted”
Musa Ibrahim, a spokesman for the Coptic Orthodox Church, said five-year-old triplets and their mother, grandmother and aunt were killed. said.
Eyewitness Emad Hannah said the church had two areas being used as daycare centers and that church officials were successful in removing some of the children.
“We went upstairs and found people dead. From outside, smoke was rising and we started to see people trying to jump from the upper floors,” Hannah said. rice field.
“We found the children,” he said.
Fifteen fire engines were dispatched to the scene to extinguish the blaze while ambulances carried casualties to nearby hospitals.
President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi expressed condolences over the phone with Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II, according to the president’s office.
“My deepest condolences to the families of the innocent victims who ended up spending time with the Lord in His House of Worship,” El-Sisi said on Twitter.
“We have mobilized all state services to ensure that all measures are taken,” he added on his Facebook page.
Maher Murad said he left his sister at the church after prayer.
“As soon as I was just ten meters away from the church, [3 feet]I heard screams and saw thick smoke,” he said.
“After the firefighters put out the fire, I recognized my sister’s body. The bodies were all charred, many of them children from the church nursery.”
The country’s chief public prosecutor, Hamada El-Sawi, ordered an investigation and a team of prosecutors was dispatched to the church.
Coptic Christians are the largest Christian community in the Middle East, comprising at least 10 million of Egypt’s 103 million population.
Egypt has suffered several large-scale fires in recent years.
In March 2021, at least 20 people were killed in a fire at a textile factory in the eastern suburbs of Cairo.
In 2020, two hospital fires killed 14 COVID-19 patients.