Police were on guard and nearby residents and relatives stood in mourning outside a hospital in Senegal where a fire in the neonatal unit killed 11 newborns.
Only three infants could be saved, President Macky Sall said before calling 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 120 km northeast of the capital, Dakar, told The Associated Press that the conditions in inside the hospital were “excruciating”.
“It was hot and smoky inside with stifling heat, and there was a power outage,” Mbaye said.
The grieving parents were still in shock.
“I baptized my child on Wednesday and he was baptized here in the hospital. To my amazement, I received a call telling me that the neonatal section had been destroyed by fire,” said Badara Faye, who lost her son.
Moustapha Cissé, who also lost a newborn, said they were still awaiting answers on how such a tragic fire could claim 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 open an investigation into the state of the hospital facilities as well as other health centres, Senegalese media reported.
President Sall has called for three days of mourning.
“To their mothers and families, I express my deepest sympathy,” Sall tweeted upon hearing the news of the fire.
His chief of staff, Minister Augustin Tine, visited the remains of the hospital on Thursday.
“We became close to people, especially parents,” he said. We came to share the suffering, he added, “to share our condolences and to say again it is a misfortune that has struck our country, but we keep our faith”.
The deadly fire comes a year after the death of four other newborns in a fire at a hospital in Linguère, in northern Senegal.
A series of other deaths have also raised concerns about maternal and child health in the West African country known for having some of the best hospitals in the region.
Earlier this month, authorities discovered that a baby who had been pronounced dead by a caregiver was still alive in a morgue. The child later died.
Last year, a pregnant woman died in Louga, in the north of the country, after waiting in vain for a caesarean section. Three midwives were given a six-month suspended prison sentence for failing to assist 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.