Egypt fire: 41 killed in Giza Coptic church as country mourns tragedy

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi offers condolences to victims' families after 'tragic accident'

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Funerals began at two Cairo churches on Sunday evening to bury 41 victims of a fire that ripped through a Coptic Christian church during Sunday mass, forcing worshippers to jump out of windows.

The blaze was blamed on an electrical fault at the Abu Seifein church in densely populated Imbaba, a working-class district west of the Nile River and part of Giza governorate in greater Cairo.

Hundreds gathered to pay their respects in and around the two Giza churches where clergymen prayed for the victims, AFP reported.

Pallbearers pushed through crowds of weeping mourners who reached for the coffins, including that of a priest at the church, Father Abdel Messih Bekhit.

Fourteen people were injured, of whom two have been discharged from hospital, Health Minister Khaled Abdel Ghaffar said.

The Health Ministry said 30 ambulances were sent to the scene of the blaze at the church in the West Munira district of Giza.

The fire broke out while a service was under way, the Coptic Church said.

Police said initial forensic evidence showed that the fire started from an electrical short circuit in an air-conditioning unit in the second floor's study halls.

There was a "small explosion" shortly before the fire, said Umm Mohamed, who runs a grocery shop facing the church.

“When I went to investigate, I found a group of young men standing around the church trying to disconnect the electricity," she told The National.

"When I asked, they said an air-conditioning unit had blown up and caused an electrical issue on the top floor of the church.

“Pretty soon afterwards, we heard the screams coming from the top floor. It was just horrible.

"The men and boys wrapped their faces in their T-shirts and tried to break through to save them.

"My neighbour Mohamed broke his leg and passed out from smoke inhalation while trying to get them out.

"Everyone was panicked because there were so many children inside. The fire happened on the floor where their nursery classes are held.”

The victims were taken to the Imbaba General Hospital and Agouza Hospital, also in Giza.

The Imbaba Hospital said it had 20 bodies from the fire — four men, six women and 10 children. Details of the dead at Agouza Hospital were not immediately available.

The Ministry of Interior said thick smoke from the flames was the "main cause in injuries and deaths".

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi issued a message of condolence to families of the victims.

“I am closely following the developments of the tragic accident in Al Munira Church in Giza, and I have directed all concerned state agencies and institutions to take all necessary measures and immediately deal with this incident and to provide all aspects of health care to the injured,” Mr El Sisi said.

“I offer my condolences to the families of all the innocent victims who met their God near one of his houses of worship.”

President Sheikh Mohamed sent a message of condolences from the UAE to Mr El Sisi and wished all of the injured a speedy recovery.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, conveyed a similar message to the Egyptian president.

The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation issued a statement saying: "The UAE expressed its sincere condolences and solidarity with the Arab Republic of Egypt over the victims of the church fire in Giza Governorate, which resulted in dozens of deaths and injuries."

Dr Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to the UAE President, also conveyed his condolences over the loss of life and wished the injured a quick recovery.

"May God protect our sister Egypt from all harm," he said in a message on Twitter.

The streets of the densely populated area where the church is located are narrow and the buildings very close together.

As the fire raged, many of the residents of the neighbouring buildings ran out into the streets fearing that their houses would also catch on fire, said Mohamed Salam, 62, who lives next to the church.

After the fire was put out, most of the Coptic homes around the church were deserted as residents went to the two hospitals to which the dead and injured were taken.

The Imbaba General Hospital was packed with grieving friends and relatives. While some waited inside to hear about the condition of injured family members, others wept in the courtyard outside for lost loved ones.

“My friend lost his wife and three children,” Mina Ibrahim, 45, told The National in the courtyard.

“His family came up from upper Egypt to stand by him because he couldn't handle this day alone. It’s truly a black day for our community.”

His friend, Tamer Wagih, was too distraught to speak.

Egypt's Minister of Social Solidarity, Nevine El Kabbag, visited the victims of the fire at two hospitals in Giza on Sunday afternoon.

Ms El Kabbag said 50,000 pounds ($2,600) would be given to every family who lost their main provider in the incident.

She also promised 25,000 pounds for the loss of other family members and 5,000 for each person who was injured.

Mr El Sisi said he had been in touch with Pope Tawadros, Egypt's highest Coptic authority, to offer his condolences and pledge the state's support to all of the victims.

“We are following with sadness the tragic incident that occurred this morning in the church of the great martyr Mercurius Abu Seifein in the Imbaba area,” Pope Tawadros said.

He said the Church was in close contact with state authorities about the incident.

Updated: August 15, 2022, 12:10 PM
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