Authorities wrap up rescue campaign as inferno kills 68

DHAKA, Feb 21, 2019 : Authorities today wrapped up the rescue
campaign as the toll in the inferno in the old part of Dhaka stood at 68 people while it tore through crumbling densely packed buildings.

“The salvage campaign is ending here,” mayor of Dhaka South City
Corporation (DSCC) Sayeed Khokon said as fire officials said there latest count suggested the blaze claimed 68 lives so far. Forensic doctors at state- run Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) said they so far counted 68 bodies, but the toll could be higher as the counting process was still underway simultaneously with autopsy.

“We are yet to open all the body-bags (containing copses) and one bag could contain more than one body as it was found so far,” said head of the DMCH’s forensic department Prof Dr Sohel Mahmud.

Mahmud, however, feared the toll to rise as many wounded were being treated at the facility with critical burn injuries.

“Some of the bodies were burned very badly, difficult to be identified,” another doctor at the facility said. Plastic Surgeon and Coordinator of Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery of DMCH Samanta Lal Sen said nine people with critically burn injuries were under their treatment and they were not out of danger.

The rescue campaign was wrapped up as fire fighters after nearly 14 hours of hectic efforts dousing the blaze and retrieved the bodies and rescued scores from the scene as many of the victims were trapped inside the buildings.

Fire officials said the Dhaka district administration so far handed over 22 of the bodies to their relatives and Tk 20,000 was given to each family for burial purposes. The fire, the deadliest one in the past nine years in the historic part of Dhaka, broke out last night setting off a chain of explosions and a wall of flames down nearby streets at the city’s centuries-old Chawkbazar area.

Parts of the precinct date back over 300 years to the Mughal period while it took hours for 200 firefighters from 37 units to douse the blaze making their way to the scene through narrow lanes with fire engines.

Fire service officials were yet to ascertain the cause of the blaze which started in one building where chemicals for plastic materials and deodorants and other household uses were illegally stored.

Witnesses said the blaze spread at lightning speed to four nearby buildings leaving little scopes for victims to survive though many of them fled their homes as it ignited just ahead of midnight Wednesday.

The ground floor of the building where the fire broke out is rented out to shops and second floor is used as a warehouse for toiletries and various plastic products. The top two floors are residential units.

Adjacent to the building there are some restaurants which kept their
cooking gas cylinders on the road which helped spread the deadly fire with intensified wraths.

Residents in the area suspected the fire broke out when a gas cylinder exploded at a restaurant, but the fire virtually spread from the second floor of building and ripped through the area quickly and there were sounds of several small explosions.

The blasts and the blaze destroyed several vehicles stuck on narrow
streets around killing several of the victims, while a police sergeant said he narrowly escaped the death while his bike was exploded in the fire.

“I was stuck in traffic jam while returning my home when a blast threw me off the bike . . . Instead of putting my bike back on wheels, I preferred to run to safety and seconds later its petrol tank exploded,” the police officer said.

The street along the gutted building was strewn with charred vehicles, pieces of still-burning metal and plastics and hundreds of cans of body deodorant.

Hundreds of distraught relatives thronged the DMCH to seek missing relatives while many waited outside the morgue to receive the corpses while doctors said some of the bodies were burnt beyond identification.

About 200 firefighters had battled for more than five hours to contain the blaze in narrow lanes snaking between tightly-packed buildings in an area, authorities say, is a home to more than three million people.

Outside the gutted store, the road was strewn with charred vehicles,
pieces of still-burning metal and plastics and hundreds of cans of body deodorant. The Wednesday night’s fire appeared to be the repetition of a deadly 2010 blaze in a nearby neighbourhood that had killed over 120 people while chemical warehouses emerged as the culprit in both the cases.

In June 2010, more than 120 people were burnt to death and 50 others injured in an identical manner at Nimtoli, a neighbourhood near the Chwakbazar area, of the crowded Old Dhaka and it was a plastic factory which responsible for quick spread of fire.

The incident, at that time, sparked a public outcry, demanding the
relocation of chemical warehouses and stores packed with combustible materials from the area and the authorities listed 800 such warehouses in the neighourhood for their transfer to Keraniganj area on the outskirts of the capital.

The last night’s incident clearly suggests that the measure were not
enough to clean the area where people use their houses for business purposes of such ignitable items for years.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said the government would lend its support to autonomous City Corporation to relocate the warehouses, while Road Transport Minister and ruling Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader said stern steps awaited the people responsible for the tragedy.

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

According to the fire service, the fire started around 10.45 pm at a five-storey building and it spread to four nearby buildings quickly, one of which was badly damaged.

The ground floor of the building is rented out to shops and second floor is used as a warehouse for toiletries and various plastic products. The top two floors are residential units.

Adjacent to the building there are some restaurants which kept their
cooking gas cylinders on the road, which helped spread the deadly fire with intensified wraths.

Residents in the area suspected the fire broke out when a gas cylinder exploded at a restaurant, but the fire virtually spread from the second floor of building and ripped through the area quickly, while there were sounds of several small explosions from inside.

The fire first spread to two neighbouring buildings and then spread across the narrow lane to two other buildings in the crowded area, said Abdur Rahman, who was among hundreds of people rushed to the sport from nearby areas to see the incident.