Forty-one women and children were killed and dozens more injured when a fire ripped through a packed wedding party in Kuwait, triggering a panicked stampede, officials said today. Dozens of firefighters battled to douse the flames which engulfed a large tent reserved for women during the wedding celebrations, in the worst civilian disaster in the modern history of the Gulf state. "The total number of deaths reached 41. There were six children among them," fire chief Gen Jassem Mansuri said. Gen Mansuri said an additional 57 women and children were injured, seven critically, hinting that the death toll could rise further from the disaster in the town of Jahra west of Kuwait City. "Most of the bodies were charred, many could not be immediately recognised. Forensic officials are working to identify the bodies," Gen Mansuri said. "The tent was burnt down within minutes and only the steel structures remained intact," he said, adding that there were between 150 and 180 women and children inside at the time. The health minister Hilal al-Sayer had earlier told the official KUNA news agency that 76 people with various degrees of burns had been taken to several hospitals in Kuwait, including to intensive care and specialised burn units. A medical source said today that more than 80 people were injured in the fire as relatives of some victims took them to private hospitals. Many of the victims had fallen during a stampede as the flames spread through the tent, which was left a smouldering wreck. At least one car was also severely damaged by the fire. The prime minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah visited those wounded at hospitals and was planning to visit the fire site later today.
An inquiry was opened to determine the exact causes of the disaster but the authorities have already said that most of the victims had fallen during a stampede after the fire broke out in the tent. Photographs of the scene show the tent was erected in an urban area. The interior was strewn with blackened debris, including the metal frames of chairs and tables, and burnt out air conditioners, a necessity in this hot country where night temperatures in the summer are often above 40C.
The victims included many women and children, authorities said. The Ministry of Interior announced the assignment of a hotline to receive inquiries from families of those among the guests of the wedding. The security media director and official spokesman Mohammad Al-Saber told KUNA the hotline is "24345161". The official also told KUNA a special Criminal Investigation centre was set up for families to seek information about their kin. * Agencies Did you lose someone in this tragedy? Contact The National on +971 2 4145328