Officials: 41 killed, 14 injured in fire at Coptic church in Cairo

CAIRO (AP) — A fire at a church in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, sent huge plumes of thick black smoke into the air during Sunday worship, killing at least 41 people and injuring 14, the Coptic Church said.

The cause of the fire at the Abu Sefain church in the working-class neighborhood of Impaba was not immediately known. According to the preliminary investigation, there was an electrical leakage.

The country’s health minister blamed the deaths on smoke and congestion as people tried to escape the fire. It was one of Egypt’s worst fires in recent years.

Footage of burning furniture, including wooden tables and chairs, went viral on the internet. Firefighters were seen extinguishing the flames while others took the victims to ambulances.

The Coptic Church reported the death toll, citing health officials. The fire reportedly broke out while the service was in progress.

Fifteen fire engines were dispatched to the spot to douse the fire, while ambulances rushed the victims to nearby hospitals, officials said.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi spoke to Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II by phone to express his condolences, the president’s office said.

“I am closely following the developments of the tragic accident,” El-Sissi wrote on Facebook. “I have directed all relevant government agencies and institutions to take all necessary measures and immediately deal with this accident and its consequences.”

Two of the injured have been discharged from hospital and 12 others are receiving treatment, Health Minister Khalid Abdel-Ghafar said in a statement.

The Home Ministry said it received information about the fire around 9 a.m. local time and found the fire started in an air conditioner on the second floor of the building.

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The ministry, which oversees police and firefighters, blamed the fire on an electrical short circuit, which produced huge plumes of smoke.

The country’s chief prosecutor, Hamada El-Shawi, ordered an investigation and a team of lawyers was sent to the church.

Egypt’s Christians make up about 10% of the country’s more than 103 million people and have long complained of discrimination by the country’s Muslim majority.

Sunday’s fire was one of the worst in recent years in Egypt, where safety standards and fire regulations are poorly enforced. In March last year, a fire at a clothing factory near Cairo killed at least 20 people and injured 24 others.

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