• Wednesday, May 22, 2019
  • Last Update : 10:21 am

44 dead as massive fire engulfs Chawkbazar buildings, death toll may rise


Numerous people with severe injuries have been admitted to different hospitals


Highlights

- Journalist counts 44 dead bodies at Dhaka Medical morgue alone

- Fire began at one building from a reported transformer blast, and spread to 7/8 others before being doused

- Many more being treated for injury at DMCH, Mitford



At least forty four people have been killed in a massive fire that has engulfed several multi-storey buildings at Nanda Kumar Lane in Chawkbazar’s Churihatta area of Old Dhaka.

At 5:56am Thursday, Associated Press videojournalist Al Emrun Garjon confirmed to the Dhaka Tribune that he has counted 44 dead bodies at the Dhaka Medical College morgue.

Of the deceased,  38 were male, four female and  the rest were children, he said.

The death toll in the devastating fire will rise, warned fire officials, who have been working throughout the night to douse the devastating fire that first started on a three-storey building situated at the intersection of roads leading to Rahmatganj, Churihatta and Chawkbazar areas around 10:35pm on Wednesday.

The building, named Haji Wahed Mansion, housed a warehouse of plastic products. Following the massive fire, around 1:45am Thursday, the building was also seen in a tilted position.

Around 4:15am, Fire Service and Civil Defence Deputy Director Dilip Kumar Ghosh told the Dhaka Tribune that at least 10 bodies were sent to Dhaka Medical College morgue for autopsy.

Numerous 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 (Mitford Hospital).

Fire-fighters fight flames that engulfed several buildings at Churihatta Lane in Old Dhaka's Chawkbazar area on February 20, 2019 | Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka TribuneMost of the injured were being treated for burns, with some of them in critical condition.

The Dhaka Tribune’s photojournalist Mahmud Hossain Opu around 2am on Thursday confirmed that he saw five dead bodies at the scene.

According to the Fire Service control room, 37 units from 31 stations were working to control the fire in the buildings on the narrow street.

Dhaka South City Corporation Mayor Sayeed Khokon and local MP Haji Md Salim rushed to the scene and were seen coordinating fire-fighting and rescue efforts.

Fire-fighters and locals try to bring down the fire at Nanda Kumar Lane in Chawkbazar’s Churihatta area of Old Dhaka on February 20, 2019 | Mahmud Hossain Opu/DhakaTribune“Our priority right now is to douse the fire completely and tend to the wounded,” Khokon said, but did not respond to questions from journalists about the warehouses in the buildings in Old Dhaka where chemicals are kept in unsafe conditions.

Wednesday night’s fire reminded many Old Dhaka residents of the Nimtoli fire tragedy that took place on June 3, 2010 and had killed at least 124 people.

Fire under control

Fire Service Deputy Director Dilip Kumar Ghosh confirmed that the firefighters have managed to bring the fire under control around 3am.

Around 1:15am, Fire Service Director (Operations) Maj Shakil Newaz said they had managed to control the fire in the adjacent buildings and were working to contain it in the building from which the flames had originated.

“But it will take some time to completely douse the fire here as this building contained many flammable materials,” he added.

Around 1:45am Thursday, the Dhaka Tribune’s Staff Reporter Arifur Rahman Rabbi said the roof of Haji Wahed Mansion was still on fire. Fire-fighters and locals were seen pouring water to douse the flames. Fire-fighters continue working to douse the flames in Haji Wahed Mansion at Nanda Kumar Lane in Chawkbazar’s Churihatta area of Old Dhaka in the wee hours of February 21, 2019 | Arifur Rahman Rabbi/Dhaka TribuneAfter the fire started, the flames had rapidly spread to at least seven or eight more adjacent buildings, which housed restaurants, shops and depots of chemical and plastic products.

Fire Service and Civil Defence officials said the fire spread very quickly because of the chemicals and plastic products.

However, neither police nor police could immediately confirm how the fire started.

But witness Rezaul Karim, who owns a shop on the opposite of Haji Wahed Mansion, told the Dhaka Tribune that the gas cylinder of a private car in front of the building had exploded at first.

“The fire from that spread to the electric wires overhead and led to the explosion of an electric transformer. The building, which is adjacent to the electric poles, caught fire instantly. As the situation deteriorated, I somehow managed to close the shutter of my shop and ran,” he said.

At least three cars and four motorcycles were also seen completely torched on Nanda Kumar Lane, which is near Chawkbazar police station.

Locals help fire-fighters bring down the fire at Nanda Kumar Lane in Chawkbazar’s Churihatta area of Old Dhaka on February 20, 2019 | Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka TribuneInjured and witnesses

DMCH police outpost’s In-Charge Md Bachchu Mia said around 50 people were admitted to the hospital. At least 16 people were being treated for burn injuries, with three of them in critical condition.

The rest of them were injured in a stampede caused by the massive fire.

Meanwhile, locals initially said more than 100 were injured.

At least seven more people were also admitted to Mitford Hospital.

Haji Md Salahuddin, an eyewitness who was also injured, told the Dhaka Tribune said he was sitting on a rickshaw on Nanda Kumar Lane when he heard an explosion from above.

He said: “I think a power transformer exploded and the sparks flew inside the warehouse of plastic products, leading to a bigger explosion and massive fire.”

Fire-fighters put a cover on the charred body of a local who died in a massive fire at Nanda Kumar Lane in Chawkbazar’s Churihatta area of Old Dhaka on February 20, 2019 | Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka TribuneSalahuddin was injured by debris sent flying by the explosion inside the building.

His remarks were echoed by Abdul Aziz, another witness who saw the incident happen from the other side of the lane.

Meanwhile, many survivors said they were unable to find their family members who went missing in the chaos.

Dhaka Metropolitan Ambulance Owners Cooperative Association was providing free ambulance services to the victims of the fire.

Shadows of Nimtoli horror

For Dhaka residents, especially those of the old town, the fire in Chawkbazar brings back the terrifying memories of another that took place almost a decade ago. On June 5, 2010, in Nimtoli, a mere 1km from this spot, a blazing inferno took the lives of 124 people.

The fire began at a chemical storehouse, at the ground floor of a residential building.

The narrow roads of the old town and the concentration of chemical and plastic factories and storages are a firefighters' nightmare. But little progress has been made in addressing the issues that led to the Nimtoli fire, or many smaller subsequent fires that took place in the last nine years.