ARBIL, Iraq—A fire at a hotel in the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region killed 19 people and injured dozens more on Friday, officials said.
Fourteen of the dead were from the Philippines, while three Iraqis, a Palestinian and another person of unknown nationality also died, said Saman Barzanji, director-general of the Arbil health department.
Dozens more were injured and taken to hospital in Arbil, said Fakher Harki, the department’s spokesman.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said they are still trying to identify the Filipinos who died in the fire.
“Initial report we received from our embassy in Baghdad says that 14 Filipinos are among the at least 19 people who died in a fire that struck Capitol Hotel in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq,” DFA spokesman Charles Jose said in a statement on Saturday.
“[The] embassy is in touch with Kurdistan Regional Government to ascertain the identities of Filipino victims. [The] acting ambassador [is] flying to Erbil to personally lead the effort,” he added.
Malacañang said it is saddened by the deaths of the 14 Filipinos and it is working with Iraqi authorities to bring home the remains of those killed in the tragedy.
In a radio interview on Saturday, Undersecretary Manuel Quezon of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office said they received a DFA update saying it had already dispatched personnel to go to Arbil.
“We are very sad about this. It’s a terrible way to die. There were many of them and it was, I believe, in a massage center,” Quezon said over dzRB Radyo ng Bayan.
“We would like to get more details and do everything that is possible to bring our countrymen home and, of course, to look at every possibility to assist their families at this time of sadness and need,” he said.
Asked for more details of the repatriation, he said the families should wait for a while because the DFA has just dispatched the people who will facilitate the repatriation.
Ambassador Elmer Cato, the country’s envoy to Iraq, flew to Arbil from Baghdad on an aircraft provided by the United Nations to help identify the victims and attend to the concerns of some 1,000 Filipinos living in the northern Iraqi region of Kurdistan.
“The incident is now under investigation. We would like to extend our deepest sympathy to the families of the victims and will do everything we can to bring them home as soon as possible,” Cato said as he announced the incident on his Facebook account.
Nawzad Hadi, the governor of Arbil province, said preliminary information indicated that the cause of the fire was an electrical problem in a sauna.
The fire took place at the four-star Capitol Hotel where rooms cost from $100-$240 per night.
The hotel’s website says it has a 740-square-meter (2,580-square-foot) spa that includes saunas and a pool.
Photos and video posted on social media showed dark grey smoke pouring from windows on the top floor of the building.
The Kurdistan region in north Iraq has largely been spared the deadly violence that plagues other parts of the country.
The region is frequently visited by tourists from other areas of Iraq and various countries in the region.
A hotel fire in Sulaimaniyah, another city in Iraqi Kurdistan, killed 30 people in July 2010.
The city’s hospital said people from 12 different nations died in that fire, including some who jumped to their deaths from upper-floor windows while trying to escape the flames.
Vice presidential candidate Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. urged the DFA quickly repatriate the 17 Filipinos killed in the fire.
“The DFA must do everything possible to repatriate the remains of the deceased OFWs the soonest time. That is the best thing we can do to assuage the grief of their families,” said Marcos.
“To the families of these OFWs, I extend my deepest condolences and sympathies,” he added.
Marcos also urged the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration to fast-track the release of the benefits and assistance due to the families of the deceased OFWs.
“OWWA should immediately coordinate with the DFA to establish the identities of the victims and process the necessary documents so the benefits for their families can be readied even as the repatriation efforts are ongoing,” said Marcos.
An active member of OWWA is covered by insurance for the duration of his employment contract. This includes P100,000 for death due to natural cause and P200,000 for death due to accident.
Legal heirs of a deceased OFW are entitled to receive an additional P20,000 for funeral expenses.
In addition, survivors of a deceased OFW are entitled to education assistance consisting of P5,000 for elementary, P8,000 for high school and P10,000 for college per school year, as well as livelihood assistance amounting to P15,000 which is given to the surviving spouse.
Marcos has been pushing for better government support for OFWs in recognition of their contribution to our economy paid for by their personal sacrifices and hard work.
He noted that according to Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas figures, OFW remittances reached almost $23 billion from January to November of 2015, contributing to an estimated 10 percent of our country’s Gross Domestic Product.
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