Police were on guard and nearby residents and parents stood mourning outside a hospital in Senegal where a fire in the neonatal unit killed 11 newborn babies.
Only three infants could be saved, President Macky Sall said before calling on Thursday for three days of mourning for the young lives lost.
Mamadou Mbaye, who witnessed the fire on Wednesday at the Abdoul Aziz Sy Dabakh Hospital in Tivaouane, a town 75 miles north east of the capital, Dakar, told the Associated Press that conditions inside the hospital were “atrocious”.
“It was hot and smoky inside with a suffocating heat, and there was a power outage,” Mbaye said.
“I baptised my child on Wednesday and he was baptised here in the hospital. To my great shock, I got a call to tell me that the neonatal section had been destroyed by a fire,” said Badara Faye, who lost his son.
Moustapha Cisse, who also lost a newborn, said they are still awaiting answers on how such a tragic fire could take the lives of their children.
The fire was blamed on an electrical short circuit, according to mayor Demba Diop.
Interior Minister Antoine Diome announced that authorities would be opening an investigation into the condition of the hospital’s facilities as well as other health care centres, Senegalese media reported.
President Sall called for three days of mourning.
“To their mothers and families, I express my deepest sympathy,” Sall had tweeted upon hearing the news of the fire.
His chief of staff, minister Augustin Tine, visited the remains of the hospital on Thursday.
“We have come to be close to the people, in particular the parents,” he said. We have come to share the suffering, he added, “to share our condolences and to say again it is a misfortune that has hit our country, but we keep our faith”.
The deadly fire comes a year after four other newborns died in a hospital fire in Linguere in northern Senegal.
A series of other deaths also have raised concerns about maternal and infant health in the West African nation known for having some of the best hospitals in the region.
Earlier this month, authorities discovered a baby that had been declared dead by a nurse’s aide was still alive in a morgue. The infant later died.
Last year, a pregnant woman died in Louga, in the north of the country, after waiting in vain for a C-section. Three midwives were given six-month suspended sentences for not giving help to a person in danger.
Health minister Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr, who was attending the World Health Assembly in Geneva, cut short his trip to return to Senegal.