(Skopje) Authorities in North Macedonia on Thursday promised to shed light on the origins of an explosion followed by a fire that devastated a COVID-19 unit in the small Balkan nation, killing at least 14 people.
Posted on September 8, 2021 at 8:14 pm Updated September 9, 2021 at 5:47 am
Darko DURIDANSKI Agence France-Presse
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev spoke of a “great tragedy” on his way to the small town of Tetovo in the northwest after the disaster when the former Yugoslav Republic celebrated the 30th anniversary of its independence.
“An explosion caused a fire. The fire has been extinguished, but many people have died, “said the head of government on Facebook and promised to investigate the causes of the disaster. “The judicial authorities are on site”.
Prosecutors in the small poor Balkan country with poor health care announced they had ordered autopsies of the bodies of 14 deceased, adding that DNA tests were required for identification of some of the victims.
“We are investigating whether there are any more deaths,” the prosecutor added in a statement, although “there are no medical personnel among those who have died.”
The fire occurred in the new COVID-19 unit of the Tetovo Hospital Center shortly after the celebrations in Skopje to celebrate the independence of North Macedonia, in particular an army and police parade and a concert by the National Philharmonic Orchestra.
The flames devastated part of the modular structures recently erected in front of the hospital complex to accommodate patients with the new coronavirus. The number of patients who were then admitted to this department with a capacity of 35 places was initially not known.
A “huge” fire –
Several hours after the disaster, people worriedly walked in front of charred containers as stretcher carriers came and went alongside ambulance vehicles, an AFP journalist noted.
The explosion occurred for reasons that are still unknown. Five prosecutors were on hand to investigate the causes of the tragedy.
The fire brigade, which was alerted around 7 p.m. GMT, said they put out the fire in 45 minutes but they failed to evade the victims.
“The fire was huge, because because the hospital is modular, there was plastic,” said the deputy commander of the Tetovo Fire Brigade, Saso Trajcevski, on local television. “We took out the victims while we put out the flames.”
The wounded were transported to hospitals in the capital.
Twelve patients who were hospitalized in the modular structures were moved to the main buildings of Tetovo Hospital, according to the Sloboden Pecat newspaper website. “All of the patients who survived the tragedy when the COVID-19 center burned down were saved thanks to medical staff,” said Dr. Ilber Besimi’s newspaper.
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev expressed his “deep condolences” to the families and relatives of the deceased and wished the injured a “speedy recovery”.
The modular unit opened in April in the city of around 52,000 residents, many of whom are members of the Albanian minority in North Macedonia.
The country with two million inhabitants, in which the average salary is 460 euros, has been recording an increase in the number of contamination from the Delta variant and the lifting of restrictions in summer for some time.
Hospitals are overwhelmed in some places, especially where vaccination rates are low and the country complains of around 30 deaths every day. In total, the pandemic has killed more than 6,100 people.
Other countries have been hit by explosions followed by fires in COVID-19 hospitals. In Iraq, dozens of people were killed in fires that followed the oxygen cylinder explosion in April and July.