70 killed as massive fire spreads at lightning speed through chemical warehouses in Bangladesh

PTI
Thursday, 21 February 2019

"The flames raced through four adjoining buildings, which were also used as chemical warehouses. There was a traffic jam when the fire broke out. It spread so quickly that people could not escape," Ali Ahmed said.

DHAKA: A fast-moving fire swept through adjoining apartment buildings and chemical warehouses in a historic part of the Bangladesh capital Dhaka, killing at least 70 people and injuring over 50 others, the latest such deadly blaze in the country.

Officials said the fire broke out at night a chemical warehouse on the ground floor of a four-storey building named Hazi Wahed Mansion behind a mosque in Old Dhaka's congested Chawkbazar area on Wednesday night and the flames then quickly spread through four other buildings nearby, including a community centre where a wedding party was on.

Dhaka Metropolitan Police officials said the fire spread rapidly due to the multiple chemical godowns that were situated in the area.

Senior officer of Dhaka fire service Mizanur said that 70 people have been killed in the incident.

Dhaka South City Corporation Mayor Sayeed Khokon called off the rescue operation around 12:10 PM after nearly 14 hours of efforts.

Bangladesh's fire service chief Ali Ahmed said the blaze may have started with a gas cylinder before quickly spreading through the building where chemicals were stored.

"The flames raced through four adjoining buildings, which were also used as chemical warehouses. There was a traffic jam when the fire broke out. It spread so quickly that people could not escape," he said.

TV images showed the main gate of one of the buildings was locked, leaving its residents trapped, unable to escape the blaze as it swept through its five storeys.

Witnesses said the victims also included passersby, some people who were eating food at a nearby restaurants and some members of a wedding party.

Over 50 people, including women and children, were also injured and admitted to nearby hospitals, including Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) and Sir Salimullah Medical College Hospital.

Some of the residents were injured after they jumped off the building.

The district administration will provide 20,000 taka (USD 238) to the victims' families for burial, Additional Deputy Commissioner Shafiqul said.

The officials said 37 fire fighting units were rushed to the scene but narrow lanes made it difficult for the fire engines to reach the spot. The fire fighters used helicopters and long hose pipes to set off the blaze.

President Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina mourned the casualties and ordered the best possible treatment for those injured. State-run facilities were asked to provide free of cost services to the injured.

The blaze is under control but not completely doused because of flammable chemicals that were being stored in several of the buildings, AKM Shakil Newaz, director of Fire Service and Civil Defence, told bdnews24.

The four-storey building where the fire started is at the risk of collapsing due to damage, according to media reports.

The first floor of the building was being used as a warehouse of plastic goods, cosmetics and perfume. Some families lived on the upper floors, according to residents.

The ground floor of the building, where the fire originated, had several shops.

The fire from the building immediately caused an electric transformer to explode, which set ablaze several cars parked on the alley. The alley was packed with people because of a wedding ceremony that was being held in the nearby community centre.

An investigation panel has been formed to identify the reason behind the fire.

The fire brings back the terrifying memories of another massive blaze in 2010 in an old Dhaka building at Nimtoli, which was also used as a chemical warehouse, that killed more than 120 people in one of the worst fire tragedies in Bangladesh.

It had sparked a public outcry, demanding the relocation of chemical warehouses and stores from the area, but little has been done in the last nine years. The authorities had listed 800 warehouses in the neighourhood for their transfer to Keraniganj on the outskirts of the capital.

The lack of safety regulations in the country was highlighted in 2013 when over 1,100 people died and thousands more were injured when a building housing garment factories in Dhaka collapsed.

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