Kuwait City : Kuwait was in shock and mourning Sunday, a day after a fire ravaged a wedding tent, killing over 40 women and children and injuring some 80.
The official Kuwaiti News Agency KUNA put the death toll at 41, including 35 women and six children. Earlier, a report by the al-Arabiya news channel had given a figure of at least 44, with fears that the tally could rise further in view of those who suffered serious burn injuries in the flames.
At least some victims were believed to have been killed in a stampede that followed the fire at the wedding in the Ayoun area of Jahra, 25 km west of Kuwait City. Around 180 people were believed to have been inside the tent when the fire broke out.
As of Sunday afternoon it was still unclear whether the bride was among the victims.
In Kuwait, men and women celebrate weddings separately and children attend the women’s party.
The cause of the fire was yet to be determined and an investigation had begun, officials said. However, reports have it that the tent did not meet safety standards. According to witnesses, the tent had no emergency exits.
At least 20 fire trucks and dozens of firemen battled the blaze, according to the director general of the fire department, Major General Yassim al-Mansouri.
He said the death toll was expected to rise as the tent was packed to capacity and many of the injured were in serious condition.
Reports said that the tent was located next to the groom’s house in a densely populated part of Jahra, with bystanders and relatives clogging the streets around the scene and impeding the arrival of firefighters.
Al-Mansouri criticised the tent’s inadequate safety.
“There was only one single entrance and exit, so that the fire caused a mass panic,” he said. “The tent did not meet the safety requirements. When we approve a tent, it must have several emergency exits.”
The Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Saba al-Ahmed al-Sabah, sent a message of condolences to the families of the victims, while parliamentary deputies demanded a thorough investigation into allegations of apparent safety deficiencies.
Kuwait Interior Ministry spokesman Col. Mohammed al-Saber commented on the hazards, saying that “despite constant warnings and recommendations that utmost caution should be observed when setting up such places of gathering, slackness often leads to such tragedies.
“Setting up tents in housing areas and between homes is extremely hazardous and would hinder rescue and response efforts in case of tragedy … Members of the public are urged most earnestly to refrain from such irresponsible setups,” he added.
Police and fire fighters suggested various possible causes of the fire, ranging from a candle toppling over to a faulty electrical cable, to a defective cooking stove.