CAIRO — At least 41 people were killed after a huge fire erupted at a church in Cairo during morning prayers on Sunday, health authorities and the Coptic Orthodox Church said.
Egypt’s health ministry said 14 people were also taken to hospitals for treatment after being injured in the blaze, which engulfed the Coptic Orthodox Church of Abou Seifain in the working-class district of Imbaba, which is in the greater Cairo province of Giza.. The fire erupted at 9 am Cairo time.
The interior ministry, which oversees the Civil Protection Authority, said the fire “broke out in an air-conditioner on the second floor of the church building, which includes a number of classrooms, as a result of an electrical fault.”
The ministry, which said the fire had been brought under control, attributed the deaths to smoke inhalation. It said five policemen were injured.
The health ministry said an ensuing stampede had also contributed to the deaths.
Horrific online images and videos showed what appeared to be people wounded by the flames screaming in pain. Eyewitnesses said a large number of children may have been among the victims.
Stories of those who braved the flames to rescue children were highlighted by local media. A list of the victims’ names, which was made public by a member of parliament representing Imbaba, showed an entire family had perished in the fire.
“I am closely following the developments of the tragic accident … and I have directed all concerned state institutions to take all necessary measures, and immediately to deal with this incident and its effects and to provide all aspects of healthcare to the injured,” Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said on Facebook.
Sisi had also ordered the army’s engineering authority to carry out the process of restoring the damaged church building, the state-run news agency said.
The blaze marks one of the worst tragedies in recent years to hit Egypt’s Christian community, which makes up around 10% of the country’s population.
In 2017, twin suicide bombings in churches in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and the Nile Delta city of Tanta killed more than 40 people. A few months later, gunmen killed nine worshipers at a church south of Cairo.
An original version of this article included an incorrect number of people treated at the hospital. The story has been corrected.