An electrical fire kills 41 people in a Coptic Christian church in Cairo…
CAIRO – More than 40 people died when a fire ripped through a Cairo-area Coptic Christian church during Sunday mass, forcing worshipers to jump out of windows as passers-by braved the flames and smoke to save lives. children.
The blaze, blamed on a power outage, hit Abu Sifin Church in densely populated Imbaba, a working-class neighborhood west of the Nile, which is part of Giza Governorate in Greater Cairo.
Witnesses described people rushing into the multi-storey house of worship to rescue those trapped, but rescuers were soon overwhelmed by the heat and deadly smoke.
“Everyone was carrying children out of the building,” said Ahmed Reda Baioumy, who lives next to the church. “But the fire was growing and you could only enter it once or you would suffocate.”
Another witness, Sayed Tawfik, told AFP that “some threw themselves out of the windows to escape the fire”. He pointed to a car with dents “left by a person who is now lying in hospital with a broken arm and back”.
Local resident Mina Masry said emergency services were slow to respond. The ambulances took “more than an hour to arrive” and the fire trucks “nearly an hour, although their post was five minutes away”.
Masry added: “If the ambulances had arrived on time, they could have rescued people.”
The Egyptian Coptic Church and the Ministry of Health reported 41 dead and 14 injured in the blaze before emergency services announced they had brought the blaze under control.
A public prosecutor’s statement said the asphyxiation caused the death, as there were “no visible injuries”.
Copts are the largest Christian community in the Middle East, making up at least 10 million of Egypt’s 103 million Muslim-majority inhabitants.
The Home Office said ‘forensic evidence has revealed that the fire started in an air conditioning unit on the second floor of the church building’ which also houses social services.
Father Farid Fahmy, from another nearby church, told AFP that a short circuit had caused the fire.
“The power was off and they were using a generator,” he said. “When the power came back, it caused an overload.”
In the morning, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi declared on his Facebook page to have “mobilized all state services” in response. He later said he had “presented his condolences by telephone” to Pope Tawadros II, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
He also ordered the Armed Forces Engineering Authority to “take charge of the reconstruction and renovation” of the church, the presidency said in a statement.
Christian communities often complain that rebuilding churches after devastating fires is marred by long delays and bureaucratic obstacles.
The governor of Giza ordered “urgent aid of 50,000 pounds (approximately $2,600) for the families of the deceased and 10,000 pounds for the injured”.
The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the most important Muslim institution in Egypt, expressed his condolences for “the tragic accident” and affirmed “the availability of Al-Azhar hospitals to receive the injured”.
Accidental fires are not uncommon in the sprawling megalopolis of Cairo, where millions of people live in informal settlements.
Baioumy, the neighbor, told AFP that firefighters were hampered by the location of the church “in a very narrow street”.
Egypt, with its often dilapidated and poorly maintained infrastructure, has suffered several deadly fires in recent years.
The Coptic minority has suffered attacks and complained of discrimination in this North African country, the most populous in the Arab world.
Copts have been the target of deadly attacks by Islamist militants, particularly after Sisi overthrew former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, with churches, schools and homes torched.
The Copts also complain of having been excluded from key positions in the State and deplore restrictive legislation for the construction and renovation of churches.
Sisi, the first Egyptian president to attend the Coptic Christmas Mass every year, in February appointed the first-ever Coptic judge to head the country’s highest Supreme Constitutional Court.
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