Bangladesh building fire kills 46, injures dozens


  • World
  • Friday, 01 Mar 2024

Firefighters spray water to douse a fire that broke out in a multi-storey building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, February 29, 2024. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

DHAKA (Reuters) -A massive fire in Bangladesh that raged through a six-storey building home to restaurants where many families with children were dining has killed at least 46 people and injured dozens, the health minister said on Friday.

Fire authorities said a gas leak or a stove could have caused Thursday's blaze in the capital, which spread quickly after breaking out in a biryani restaurant, and was only brought under control following two hours of effort by 13 units of firefighters.

Hospitals were treating 22 people with burns, Health Minister Samanta Lal Sen told reporters.

"All 22 people ... are in critical condition," Sen, himself a well-known physician, said after a visit to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital. "We are trying our best to save their lives."

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed shock and sorrow at the incident, ordering swift treatment for the injured.

She urged adherence to construction rules and regulations, including requirements for essential safety features such as fire exits and ventilation systems to prevent such tragedies in the future.

One survivor, Mohammad Altaf, recounted his narrow escape from the blaze that killed two colleagues.

"I went to the kitchen, broke a window and jumped to save myself," he told reporters, adding that a cashier and server who urged people to leave during the first moments had died later.

Firefighters used cranes to rescue people from the charred building, said fire officials, who were still working to clear debris and douse any remaining embers.

Relatives gathered at the hospital early on Friday to receive the bodies of the dead, with some mourning outside the emergency department.

"I could not save my daughter," wailed Abdul Quddus, the father of Nimu, whose relatives said she was among a group of five cousins and friends who all died in the fire.

Also killed, along with his wife, two daughters and a son, was Syed Mubarak Hossain Kauchar, whose family was celebrating plans to emigrate to Italy on March 18 after their visas came through on Thursday, a relative said.

"Finally the dream was going to be fulfilled," said his cousin, Atiqur Rahman. "To celebrate, they came to a restaurant but all died."

Doctors said most of the dead were killed by suffocation with others dying as they jumped off the building, which also houses some clothing and mobile telephone shops.

Smoke billowed from the side of the building in video images filmed by a witness on Thursday.

'GAS CYLINDERS ON EVERY FLOOR'

The fire could have originated from a gas leak or stove, said Brigadier General Main Uddin, a top fire service official.

"It was a dangerous building with gas cylinders on every floor, even on the stairs," he told Reuters, adding that it had a single staircase, lacking ventilation, an emergency exit and other safety features.

"The cause of the fire is being investigated. We have taken notes of eyewitnesses. They said there was a small shop on the ground from where the gas cylinder exploded and the fire spread from there," he said.

The government has set up a five-member panel to investigate the incident.

The main opposition party blamed the government for the fire.

"Accidents and disasters keep happening as there is no rule of law," Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, the secretary general of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) said in a statement.

"The government is not accountable to the people and that's why anarchy prevails, many accidents occur and people lose their lives."

Intense scrutiny of Bangladesh and the major global clothing retailers that manufacture there has helped prevent disasters in the garment sector since a fire in 2012 and a building collapse in 2013 together killed more than 1,200 workers.

But in other industries, mainly catering to the booming domestic economy and lacking equal emphasis on safety, hundreds of people have died in fires.

Fires are common in densely populated Dhaka, where many new buildings have sprung up, many lacking adequate safety measures. Fires and explosions have resulted from faulty gas cylinders, air conditioners and poor electrical wiring.

In July 2021, many children were among the 54 people killed at a food processing factory outside Dhaka, while at least 70 people were killed in a February 2019 fire that engulfed a centuries-old precinct.

(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Additional reporting by Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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