An electrical fire ripped through an Egyptian Coptic Christian church during Mass on Sunday, sparking a stampede and killing at least 41 people, most of them children, and many suffering from smoke inhalation.
The fire broke out shortly before 9 a.m. at the Abu Sifin Church in Giza, where about 1,000 people had gathered.
The fire blocked the entrance to the church, causing a stampede, two sources said, adding that most of the dead were children.
“People were gathering on the third and fourth floors, and we could see smoke coming from the second floor. People rushed down the stairs and started falling on top of each other,” said Yasir Munir, a believer.
“Then we heard a bang, sparks and fire from the window,” he said, adding that he and his daughter were on the first floor and were able to escape.
Electrical fires are not uncommon in Egypt. In late 2020, at least seven people died in a fire at a hospital treating patients with COVID-19.
In a statement, the Ministry of the Interior said that a forensic examination showed that the fire started in an air conditioner on the second floor as a result of an electrical fault.
The main cause of death was smoke inhalation. The families of the dead will receive 100,000 Egyptian pounds ($5,220), the cabinet said in a statement.
Giza, the second largest city in Egypt, is located on the other side of the Nile from Cairo.
“My sincere condolences to the families of the innocent victims who went to be with their Lord in one of his houses of worship,” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi tweeted.
Maher Murad said he left his sister at the church after prayers.
“As soon as I moved only 10 meters away from the church, I heard screams and saw thick smoke,” he said.
“After the firefighters extinguished the fire, I recognized my sister’s body. All the bodies were burnt, and many of them were children who were in the children’s room of the church.”
“I don’t know if it was an electrical fire or what happened, but there were children and old people, we saved those we could save,” said Kirolas, speaking from a hospital where he was being treated for his injuries.