CAIRO – A deadly fire spread through a crowded Coptic Orthodox church near the Egyptian capital of Cairo on Sunday, killing at least 41 people and injuring 16, authorities said.
Update 5:58 p.m. EDT: The death toll remained at 41, but officials said that 15 of the fatalities were children, according to The Associated Press.
Sixteen people were injured, including four policemen who were involved in the rescue effort, according to the news organization.
Original report: At least 10 children were among the fatalities in the Martyr Abu Sefein church in Giza, located east of Cairo, according to The Associated Press.
The blaze began just before 9 a.m. in the church as 5,000 people gathered to worship, Reuters reported.
The fire blocked an entrance to the church and caused a stampede, two sources told the news organization.
Several trapped worshippers jumped from the upper floors of the four-story church, the AP reported.
“Suffocation, suffocation, all of them dead,” one witness, who only gave a partial name, Abu Bishoy, told the news organization.
“People were gathering on the third and fourth floor, and we saw smoke coming from the second floor,” worshipper Yasir Munir told Reuters. “People rushed to go down the stairs and started falling on top of each other.
“Then we heard a bang and sparks and fire coming out of the window.”
An initial investigation noted that the fire in the working-class neighborhood could have been caused by an electrical malfunction, Reuters reported.
Witnesses said there were many children inside the four-story building when the fire broke out.
“There are children, we didn’t know how to get to them,” Abu Bishoy told the AP. “And we don’t know whose son this is, or whose daughter that is. Is this possible?”
Witness Emad Hanna told the news organization that the church includes two places used as a day care for children and that a church worker managed to get some children out.
“We went upstairs and found people dead. And we started to see from outside that the smoke was getting bigger, and people want to jump from the upper floor,” Hanna said. “We found the children.”
Some were dead and some had survived, he said.