At least 81 people were killed and over 50 critically injured after a major fire raced through densely packed buildings in a centuries-old neighbourhood of Dhaka in Bangladesh on Thursday. The toll could climb as efforts to scour the rubble are underway.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is monitoring the situation and that a five-member panel has been formed to probe the incident.
In what is seen as the city’s worst fire incident since 2012, the fire broke out on Wednesday night at a chemical warehouse on the ground floor of a four-storey building named Hazi Wahed Mansion behind a mosque in Old Dhaka’s Chawkbazar area and gradually spread to other areas.
“So far, 70 bodies have been recovered,” Julfikar Rahman, a director of the Fire Service and Civil Defence, told news agency Reuters. “The number could rise further as the search continues,” he added.
The Chawkbazar area is crammed with buildings separated by narrow alleys. The neighborhood is a mix of residential and commercial buildings that commonly have shops, restaurants or warehouses on the ground floors.
It took nearly 200 firefighters and more than five hours to contain the blaze in the area which, locals claimed, was home to more than three million people. Firemen claimed to have struggled with the supply of water and were forced to pump supplies from the nearby mosque.
Hundred of relatives thronged the Dhaka Medical College and Hospital in search of missing relatives. “All of them were crying and desperate,” a witness told Reuters. “Relatives entered the morgue and searched a register for the names of their nearest and dearest.”
“It is unclear whether anyone who lived on the floors above (the place where the fire broke out) is alive,” said Shamim Harun ur Rashid, a local police official. He added that a probe is underway.
Attacking the ruling government over the tragic mishap, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, secretary general of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, said, “This tragic incident happened due to the indifference and callousness of the government, as well as mismanagement.”
School teacher Mohammad Hemayet Uddin alleged that several requests with the authorities to relocate the warehouse fell on deaf ears. “After the Nimtoli tragedy, we urged our local leaders not to allow any more godowns that are a danger for us,” he added, referring to a 2010 fire that claimed 124 lives.
“We need cooperation to find such illegal godowns as the area is vast and houses thousands of buildings,” Sayeed Khokon, the South Dhaka mayor, told media.
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