Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 August 2019

At least 70 dead in Bangladesh building fire

Building where blaze started housed a plastics warehouse, firefighters say

At least 70 people have died in a fire in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, with the toll expected to rise as fire fighters comb the wreckage of the destroyed building.

The fire started in a four-storey building on Wednesday night and spread to nearby buildings in the Chawkbazar area of Old Dhaka, which dates back to the Mughal period more than 300 years ago.

"So far, 70 bodies have been recovered. The number could rise further as the search is continuing," said Julfikar Rahman, a director of the Fire Service and Civil Defence.

Mr Rahman said at least 50 people had been taken to hospital, some in critical condition. Hundreds of people rushed to the Dhaka Medical College and Hospital to search for missing relatives, witnesses said.

About 200 firefighters fought for more than five hours to bring the blaze under control. They said the building where the fire began had housed a plastics warehouse and contained flammable material.

Mr Rahman said the cause was still under investigation.

He said firefighters had struggled to find enough water to fight the blaze and had to draw supplies from a nearby mosque.

'Flames were everywhere'

Members of a bridal party in a nearby community centre were also caught in the fire and many were injured. Others were caught in small restaurants.

Dhaka deputy police commissioner Ibrahim Khan said at least two cars and 10 cycle rickshaws were burnt in the fire.

"The victims included passers-by, some people who were eating food at a restaurants and some members of the bridal party," he said.

"I saw the charred body of a woman who was holding her daughter in her lap as their rickshaw was caught in the fire," said one witness.

Haji Abdul Kader, whose shop was destroyed, said he only survived the blaze because he had gone to a pharmacy.

"When I was at the pharmacy, I heard a big bang. I turned back and saw the whole street, which was jam packed with cars and rickshaws, in flames. Flames were everywhere," he said.

"I got burned and taken to hospital."

A relative of one of the victims mourns outside Dhaka Medical College Hospital. Reuters
A relative of one of the victims mourns outside Dhaka Medical College Hospital. Reuters

Doctors at Dhaka Medical College Hospital said 10 people are in critical condition.

Hundreds of people rushed to the hospital looking for missing relatives.

However, most of the bodies of the dead were charred beyond recognition.

Sohag Hossain, one of the injured, told the Daily Star that he and two friends were working at a plastic factory in one of the buildings at the time of the fire.

They heard an explosion and could not escape the flames.

A similar blaze in 2010 in an old Dhaka building, which was also used as a chemical warehouse, killed more than 120 people in one of the worst fire disasters in the city of 20 million people.

The fire is likely to focus attention on lax enforcement of building safety regulations in Bangladesh, where accidents kill hundreds every year.

The Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013 killed more than 1,100 workers and a garment factory fire in 2012 killed 112 people.

Updated: February 21, 2019 02:38 PM