Saudi authorities launched an investigation yesterday into a fire tragedy at a wedding party in Abqaiq that left at least 24 people dead and 37 injured.
Prince Muhammad bin Fahd, governor of the Eastern Province, ordered the investigation. He visited grieving relatives at Hijrah Jadeedah, 30 km from Abqaiq, an energy industrial center.
The deadly blaze occurred late Tuesday when a live electrical cable fell on a metal door. The metal door served as the only entrance and exit to an open courtyard. The cable also set ablaze a women-only marquee. Gathered in the courtyard in a tent area were women and children to celebrate the wedding, according to Maj. Gen. Abdullah Alkoshiman, director of Civil Defense in the Eastern Province.
The cable electrified the door, and some wedding guests were electrocuted when they touched it as they attempted to flee the fire, said Alkoshiman.
He said celebratory gunfire knocked the cable down. Discharging firearms at weddings was outlawed last month, although shooting firearms is common at weddings in tribal areas.
The Civil Defense official said 33 injured wedding guests were treated and released from Aramco Hospital in Dhahran. Four remain hospitalized.
“Most of the victims were women, though men and children also reportedly died,” said Alkoshiman.
The courtyard yesterday remained as it was Tuesday night with plastic chairs overturned, debris strewn across carpets and a lone wheelchair standing amid the rubble. A pole supporting strings of light bulbs remained standing. Outside the walls was a scorched vehicle parked. The metal door, through which guests attempted to flee, remained open.
One Eastern Province official said the tent area in the courtyard lacked any safety measures or multiple exits. Civil Defense officials have warned private wedding party hosts and wedding hall managers to ensure their facilities have enough exits to avoid panic and overcrowding in the event of an emergency.
While visiting the injured and the relatives of victims, Prince Muhammad conveyed to them the condolences of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah; Crown Prince Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense; and Interior Minister Prince Ahmad.