A Christian groom and his bride who lost more than 100 of their friends and family members after a fire broke out during their wedding celebration at a banquet hall in Iraq’s biggest Christian town in northern Nineveh province on Sept. 26, say even though they survived the blaze, they feel “dead inside.”
"It's true that we're sitting here in front of you alive. But inside we are dead. We are numb. We are dead inside," the groom Revan, 27, also identified as Ivan Esho, told Sky News about himself and his bride, 18-year-old Haneen.
Iraqi Joint Operations Command Spokesperson Major General Pilot Tahseen Al Khafaji previously told CNN that there were some 1,300 guests in attendance at the event when the fire broke out at approximately 10:45 p.m. local time. Survivors told Reuters that the guests had gathered at the banquet hall following an earlier church service. They were only inside for about one hour when fireworks ignited a fire among the decorations in the ceiling as the newlyweds danced. In addition to the people who died, more than 150 others were left injured.
Revan, who says his whole family has been devastated, said he doesn’t believe that fireworks should be blamed for the disaster.
"It could be a short-circuit, I don't know. But the fire started in the ceiling. We felt the heat … When I heard the crackling, I looked at the ceiling," he told the news channel.
"Then the ceiling, which was all nylon, started to melt. It only took seconds," Revan explained.
He said there was a power cut during the celebration and when the power came back, he “saw fire” in the ceiling. When people started to “scream” and “run away,” Revan said he grabbed Haneen and made his escape.
"I grabbed my wife, and I began to drag her. I kept dragging her and trying to get her out of the kitchen entrance,” he recalled noting that his wife could not walk because of her wedding dress. “As people were fleeing, people were trampling on her. Her legs are injured."
A statement from Iraq’s Ministry of Interior previously noted that: “Initial information indicates that fireworks were used during the wedding ceremony, which initially ignited a fire inside the hall. The fire spread very quickly, and the matter was exacerbated by the toxic gas emissions associated with the burning of the highly flammable Ecobond plastic panels, which caused casualties and injuries among families.”
Revan told Sky News that he and his bride can no longer remain in their town due to the tragedy.
"That's it, we can't live here anymore. We can't live here anymore,” he said. "I mean, every time we try to have some happiness, something tragic happens to us and destroys the happiness. So, it's best for us to leave.”
He added: "Our relatives, our friends, our loved ones are all gone. ... Two days ago we buried her [Haneen's] uncle and his two daughters. Yesterday we buried her other uncle. Today we buried his daughter and we buried her mother. Her father is in critical condition. We don't know what his condition is."
And that doesn’t cover all the close family deaths for the couple.
"My aunt died. My sister had burns. Her husband has burns all over his body. My uncle lost seven members. So many people. And every day we hear more news,” Revan said.
"On the wedding night … why did this happen?” he asked. “What did we do? Why did this happen?"