14 dead in fire at Covid hospital in North Macedonia
The fire broke out following an explosion in a Covid-19 clinic in Tetovo in the northwest of the Balkan country, said Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who immediately headed to the town.
"A huge tragedy has occurred in the Tetovo Covid-19 centre," Zaev said on Twitter. "An explosion caused a fire. The fire was extinguished but many lives were lost."
At least 14 people died in the disaster, Health Minister Venko Filipce said.
"That number could rise," he said on Twitter, expressing his "profound condolences" to the victims’ families.
The fire occurred as the former Yugoslav republic celebrated the 30th anniversary of its independence, with festivities in the capital Skopje, including a military parade.
The blaze destroyed part of the modular units recently built in front of the hospital to accommodate Covid patients.
Several hours after the disaster, people walked past charred containers while stretcher bearers went back and forth to rescue vehicles, an AFP journalist said.
Investigators have gone to the site to try to determine the cause of the disaster.
Fire services were alerted to the blaze at around 1900 GMT, and it took about 45 minutes to extinguish.
Construction work on the modular Covid unit only began in December at the hospital in Tetovo, a town of around 50,000 people.
"The fire was huge because the hospital is modular, there was plastic," Tetovo deputy fire chief Saso Trajcevski told local television.
"We took out victims while we put out the flames."
Several injured people were transported to hospitals in the capital.
"The fight for life is still going on and all services are doing everything they can to save people," Zaev said, expressing "deep condolences to the families and of the deceased".
"I wish the injured a quick recovery".
North Macedonia has a population of around two million and its healthcare services are run down.
Hospitals are overwhelmed in some areas, particularly where vaccination rates are low.
The country has reported a rise in coronavirus infections recently, with the daily death toll reaching around 30.
It has recorded more than 6,100 fatalities in total since the start of the pandemic.
Covid-19 hospitals in other countries have been hit by explosions followed by fires.
In Iraq, dozens of people were killed in fires that occurred after oxygen cylinders exploded in April and July.