At Least 41 Dead in Cairo Church Fire: 'My Heart Broke Watching Them Take Out the Children's Bodies'

·3 min read
At Least 41 Dead in Cairo Church Fire: 'My Heart Broke Watching Them Take Out the Children's Bodies'

At least 41 people, including 18 children, died after a fire broke out at a busy Coptic Orthodox church in Cairo, Egypt on Sunday, according to multiple reports.

The massive blaze broke out around 9 a.m. local time while worshippers were attending Sunday morning services, according to the Associated Press and CNN.

Egypt's Interior Ministry said the Abu Sefein church in Giza became engulfed in flames following an electrical failure involving a second-floor air conditioning unit, Reuters reported.

A stampede took place as smoke filled the church, per the outlets.

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Among the dead are 18 children between the ages of 3 and 16, according to CNN. A priest was also reportedly killed.

"My heart broke watching them take out the children's bodies," said 66-year-old Seif Ibrahim, who witnessed the incident, according to The New York Times.

Fire fighters work at a fire site in Giza Province, Egypt, on Aug. 14, 2022. At least 41 people were killed and 12 wounded in a massive fire that broke out in a Coptic church in Egypt's Giza Province on Sunday, the Egyptian Health Ministry said.
Fire fighters work at a fire site in Giza Province, Egypt, on Aug. 14, 2022. At least 41 people were killed and 12 wounded in a massive fire that broke out in a Coptic church in Egypt's Giza Province on Sunday, the Egyptian Health Ministry said.

CHINE NOUVELLE/SIPA/Shutterstock

More than a dozen people were injured in the fire as well, per the reports. At least two of those injured were police officers assisting with the rescue.

It is unclear how many worshippers were inside the building when the fire began.

"I offer my sincere condolences to the families of the innocent victims that have passed on to be with their Lord in one of his houses of worship," Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi wrote on Twitter Sunday, as translated by Reuters.

Photo taken on Aug 14, 2022 shows the fire site at a Coptic church in Giza Province, Egypt. At least 41 people were killed and 12 injured in a massive fire that broke out in a Coptic church in Egypt's Giza Province on Sunday, the Egyptian Health Ministry said.
Photo taken on Aug 14, 2022 shows the fire site at a Coptic church in Giza Province, Egypt. At least 41 people were killed and 12 injured in a massive fire that broke out in a Coptic church in Egypt's Giza Province on Sunday, the Egyptian Health Ministry said.

CHINE NOUVELLE/SIPA/Shutterstock

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The Abu Sefein church is located on a narrow street in the working-class neighborhood of Imbaba, according to the AP.

Witnesses said a generator blew up after power was restored to the church that morning, according to the Times. Both the generator and electrical outlets were operating simultaneously ahead of the explosion.

This handout image provided by the office of Egypt's Prime Minister shows Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli (C) visiting the Abu Sifin Coptic church after a fire broke out during a Sunday service in a working-class district of Greater Cairo on August 14, 2022.
This handout image provided by the office of Egypt's Prime Minister shows Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli (C) visiting the Abu Sifin Coptic church after a fire broke out during a Sunday service in a working-class district of Greater Cairo on August 14, 2022.

Egypt's Prime Minister Office/AFP via Getty

One worshipper recalled hearing "bang" before seeing "sparks and fire coming out of the window" while on the ground floor with his daughter, per Reuters.

"People were gathering on the third and fourth floor, and we saw smoke coming from the second floor. People rushed to go down the stairs and started falling on top of each other," Yasir Munir, who managed to escape, told the outlet.

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Ibrahim recalled rescuers jumping from neighboring rooftops to reach the building, only to realize the door on the church's roof was locked, according to the Times.

"Some climbed up to the roof to grab people from the windows," he told the outlet. "People from buildings around the church were throwing water into the windows out of buckets."

Photo taken on Aug 14, 2022 shows the fire site at a Coptic church in Giza Province, Egypt. At least 41 people were killed and 12 injured in a massive fire that broke out in a Coptic church in Egypt's Giza Province on Sunday, the Egyptian Health Ministry said.
Photo taken on Aug 14, 2022 shows the fire site at a Coptic church in Giza Province, Egypt. At least 41 people were killed and 12 injured in a massive fire that broke out in a Coptic church in Egypt's Giza Province on Sunday, the Egyptian Health Ministry said.

CHINE NOUVELLE/SIPA/Shutterstock

Another witness, Emad Hanna, said some children were saved, but not all were able to escape the flames.

"We went upstairs and found people dead," Hanna told the AP. "And we started to see from outside that the smoke was getting bigger, and people want to jump from the upper floor."

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Hamada el-Sawy, Egypt's chief prosecutor, said most victims killed in Sunday's fire died of smoke inhalation, according to the AP. An investigation into Sunday's fire has been ordered.

Funerals for the fire victims reportedly began Sunday evening, per the reports.