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Fire at Coptic church in Cairo kills 41, injures 14: Officials

Fire at Coptic church in Cairo kills 41, injures 14: Officials
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Cairo: A fire ripped through a packed church during morning services in Egypt's capital on Sunday, killing at least 41 worshippers and injuring 14.

The church quickly filled with thick black smoke, and witnesses said several trapped congregants jumped from upper floors to escape. Suffocation, suffocation, all of them dead, said a distraught witness, who only gave a partial name, Abu Bishoy.

The cause of the blaze in the Abu Sefein church in the working-class neighbourhood of Imbaba was not immediately known. An initial investigation pointed to an electrical short-circuit, according to a police statement. Footage from the scene circulated online showed burned furniture, including wooden tables and chairs. Firefighters were seen putting out the blaze while others carried victims to ambulances. Families waited for word on relatives who were inside the church.

Witnesses said there were many children inside the building when the fire broke out.

There are children we didn't know how to get to them," said Abu Bishoy. "And we don't know whose son this is, or whose daughter that is. Is this possible?

The country's health minister blamed the smoke and a stampede as people attempted to flee the fire for causing the fatalities. It was one of the worst fire tragedies in Egypt in recent years. Witness Emad Hanna said the church includes two places used as a daycare for children, and that a church worker managed to get many children out.

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. ... We found the children.

Egypt's Coptic Church and the country's health ministry reported the casualty toll. The church said the fire broke out while a service was underway. The church is located in a narrow street in one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in Cairo.

Fifteen firefighting vehicles were dispatched to the scene to put out the flames while ambulances ferried casualties to nearby hospitals, officials said.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi spoke by phone with the Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II to offer his condolences, the president's office said. Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, Al-Azhar's Grand Imam, also offered his condolences to the head of the Coptic church.

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