People survey the aftermath of a fiery car crash outside the National Cancer Institute in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. The multiple-car crash set off an explosion that ignited a fire at Egypt's main cancer hospital, the government said.(AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Car crash in Cairo sets off fire outside hospital, kills 19

August 05, 2019 - 6:53 am

CAIRO (AP) — A multiple-car crash on a Cairo street in front of Egypt's main cancer hospital set off an explosion that triggered a fire outside the building, killing a total of 19 people, authorities said Monday.

The crash and the explosion also injured 30 others, the health ministry said. Some of the injured suffered burns and broken bones, it added, though it wasn't immediately clear if any of the casualties were inside the hospital.

The Interior Ministry said a vehicle driving against the traffic — for reasons that were not specified — had collided with up to three other cars late on Sunday, causing the explosion on the Nile-side street, the city's famous Corniche. At least 54 patients were evacuated to other hospitals while the fire was later brought under control.

The blast damaged the cancer hospital's main gate and several patient rooms and wards, according to a statement from the Cairo University. Its Medical School uses the institute as an educational facility.

Television stations broadcast footage of shattered windows and doors on Monday morning. The health ministry did not say if any hospital patients or staff were among the casualties.

"Parts of the ceiling of the hospital were collapsing as I got out of my room," said Mahmoud el-Sayed, one of the patients at the National Cancer Institute. "People were running everywhere and shouting."

There was no immediate explanation as to why the crash had caused such a large explosion and officials could not be reached for questions about possible sabotage or whether there had been any explosive materials at the scene.

The county's top prosecutor ordered an investigation into the crash, according to the state-run MENA news agency.

"We heard an explosion and ... the bank entrance glass was shattered everywhere," said Abdel-Rahman Mohamed, a security officer at a bank at the opposite side of the hospital.

Another eyewitness, Mohamed Ashraf, said many cars in the vicinity were also damaged and those inside them suffered burns. "There were around 20 cars" in the area, he said. "People were struggling to get the passengers out of the vehicles."

The health ministry said the injured were taken to different hospitals for treatment.

Health Minister Hala Zayed said in TV comments that unidentified body parts were being collected in a body bag from the site of the explosion. It was also possible that some bodies had ended up in the Nile, she added.

The police quickly cordoned off the area of the crash. Civil defense workers were seen Monday morning removing debris as officials milled about, inspecting the hospital to determine the extent of the damage to the building.

Some patients with scheduled appointments for Monday were left stranded, waiting outside the hospital with their relatives.

"We do not know where to go," said farmer Ahmed Ramadan who had brought his daughter for a round of chemo therapy from their home province of Beni Suef, about 145 kilometers (90 miles) south of Cairo.

The hospital is close to Cairo's Tahrir Square, which became known internationally as the scene of mass protests in the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Road accidents are common in Egypt, often the result of badly maintained roads and poor enforcement of traffic laws. The country's official statistics agency says 8,000 crashes last year caused more than 3,000 deaths and 12,000 injuries.

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