A fire at a Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo, Egypt, on Sunday killed around 41 people, including 15 children.
The Martyr Abu Sefein church was holding its morning service on Sunday when black smoke filled the building, and a stampede broke out among churchgoers. Some congregants even jumped out of the four-story building to escape the flames.
According to the Associated Press, the fire is believed to have been caused by an electrical short-circuit.
About 41 people were killed, and dozens more were injured in the fire.
“Suffocation, suffocation, all of them dead,” a distraught witness said.
Another witness, Emad Hanna, said that a church worker managed to get some of the surviving children out of the church’s daycare facilities.
“We went upstairs and found people dead. And we started to see from outside that the smoke was getting bigger, and people want to jump from the upper floor,” Hanna said.
“We found the children,” some dead, some alive, he continued.
The blaze also damaged furniture, including wooden tables and chairs. It is considered one of the worst fire tragedies in Egypt in recent years.
Egypt’s health minister blamed the fire and the resulting stampede as a cause for the deaths on Sunday. Meanwhile, relatives of the victims criticized paramedics and firefighters for their delayed response.
“They came after the people died. … They came after the church burned down,” one woman, who was standing outside the church, shouted.
Health minister Khaled Abdel-Ghafar, however, claimed that an ambulance arrived two minutes after the fire was reported.
The country’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, addressed the tragedy on social media and announced that multiple response efforts to the fire were underway.
“I am closely following the developments of the tragic accident,” el-Sissi wrote on Facebook. “I directed all concerned state agencies and institutions to take all necessary measures and immediately deal with this accident and its effects.”
Later that afternoon, two churches in the nearby Waraq neighborhood held pre-burial prayers for the dead victims who arrived in caskets carried by ambulances.
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Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. He is also the co-hosts of the For Your Soul podcast, which seeks to equip the church with biblical truth and sound doctrine. Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.