Hospital fire kills 25 in Saudi Arabia

The Saudi Civil Defense said at least 25 people were killed in a fire at a hospital in Saudi Arabia’s port city Jazan

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A fire tore through the intensive care unit and the maternity ward of a Saudi hospital before dawn on Thursday, killing at least 24 people and injuring 123, officials said.

The fire broke out at the general hospital in the southwestern port city of Jazan, the capital of the Jizan region, one of Saudi Arabia's poorest areas.

The civil defence agency said 25 people died but a later statement by Health Minister Khalid al-Falih put the death toll at 24. Two of the dead were security guards and one was a child, officials said.

The injured were transferred to private and general hospitals in the area.

In one of its latest tweet, the agency said the fire was brought under control and “an investigation is underway to determine the causes.”

It said that security and emergency services supported by 21 civil defense teams had assisted in putting out the fire.

Director of the Civil Defense in Jazan, Major Yahya al-Qahtani reportedly received information about the fire at 2:00am local time (2300GMT).

Photographs published on Twitter by the civil defence agency showed heavy smoke and an intense blaze which appeared to have severely damaged the interior of the white-walled hospital. Some rescuers used a ladder to gain access through a window.

An Al Arabiya Television Channel correspondent reported that he had seen several emergency doors locked with chains when he visited the hospital after the disaster. He said the hospital had previously received official warnings over safety violations.

The region's Director of Health Affairs, Ahmed al-Sahli, denied any safety problems, telling Al Arabiya that many people had been able to escape easily from the blaze because the doors were open and safety equipment was in place.

But Eissa Amaish, whose sister was killed in the fire, blamed the hospital's management. "What happened in this hospital was a crime of murder," he told Al Arabiya. "This hospital was not equipped at all to deal with a fire."

Some people on Twitter suggested the fire had been the result of official negligence and that the health minister should resign, although the identities of the Twitter accounts could not be verified.

Footage of the Jazan General Hospital fire were aired on Al Arabiya TV:

(With Reuters)