14 Filipinos killed in hotel fire in Iraq's Kurdistan region

MANILA, Philippines – Fourteen Filipinos were among the 19 killed in a hotel fire in the capital of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region on Friday, February 5, officials said.

The Filipinos were employees of the 4-star Capitol Hotel, which caught fire due to an electrical problem, based on the initial investigation.

Elmer Cato, charge d'affaires of the Philippine embassy in Iraq, told Rappler on Saturday morning, February 6, that he was set to fly to Erbil that day to help authorities identify the Filipino casualties.

"I will be flying to Erbil in a few hours to get the names of the hotel employees who died in the incident and inform the next of kin. We will release the names once their next of kin have been informed," he said via email.

Cato said the Philippine government will arrange the repatriation of the remains of the victims.

The others killed in the fire included 3 Iraqis, a Palestinian and another person of unknown nationality, said Saman Barzanji, director general of the Erbil health department.

Dozens more were injured and taken to the hospital in Erbil, said Fakher Harki, the department's spokesman.

Nawzad Hadi, the governor of Erbil province, said preliminary information indicated that the cause of the fire was an electrical problem in a sauna at the Capitol Hotel, where rooms cost from $100-$240 per night.

The hotel's website says it has a 740-square-meter (2,580-square-foot) spa that includes saunas and a pool.

Photos and video posted on social media showed dark gray smoke pouring from windows on the top floor of the building.

The Kurdistan region in north Iraq has largely been spared the deadly violence that plagues other parts of the country.

The region is frequently visited by tourists from other areas of Iraq and various countries in the region.

A hotel fire in Sulaimaniyah, another city in Iraqi Kurdistan, killed 30 people in July 2010.

The city's hospital said people from 12 different nations died in that fire, including some who jumped to their deaths from upper-floor windows while trying to escape the flames. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com