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A terrible toll in an Egyptian church fire: 18 children killed


Fire damage at the Abu Sefein church in the Embaba district of Cairo on Sunday.

By Jane Arraf


Eighteen children died in the fire that killed 41 people when it swept through a Coptic Orthodox church in a working-class neighborhood of Cairo over the weekend, a spokesman for the church said Monday.


The Rev. Moussa Ibrahim, spokesman of the Abu Sefein church in the Embaba district of Cairo, said all the children who died in the fire Sunday were 5 to 13 years old.


Ibrahim said the fire originated with an electrical generator used at the church. He said he could provide no further details while the fire was under investigation.


The fire broke out as worshippers gathered for a Mass in a small room of the church, where a generator was in use after a power cut. When the power came back on, witnesses said, the generator exploded, followed by an air-conditioning unit, setting off a blaze that tore through the four-story church and started a stampede of churchgoers.


Footage shared on social media and verified by The New York Times showed worshippers screaming for help as smoke poured from the building. Others were seen on the roof as the flames spread.


The majority of the deaths and injuries resulted from smoke inhalation and the stampede, Egypt’s Health Ministry said.


The blaze was the latest blow for Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, which has long complained that government restrictions on the construction, renovation and repair of churches have been part of a larger pattern of discrimination that has relegated them to second-class citizenship and left many of their houses of worship in disrepair.


The tragedy also raised questions in a country whose government has long been criticized over its lax safety standards and poor oversight.


The country’s chief prosecutor, Hamada el-Sawy, said he had ordered an investigation into the fire.

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