Disaster Management and Relief Ministry opens emergency helplines for families of victims
The devastating fire Wednesday night that completely gutted several multiple-storey buildings at Old Dhaka’s Chawkbazar has left at least 67 people dead and scores injured — many with severe burns.
As the injured received treatment at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) and other hospitals on Thursday, the authorities ended the rescue efforts for victims and possible survivors at 12:45pm.
Reminding Old Dhaka residents as well as the nation of the June 2010 fire tragedy at Nimtoli that killed 124 people, the Chawkbazar incident has become the second-worst such disaster in Bangladesh’s history.
Although the origin of the inferno is still sketchy, this latest fire incident undoubtedly left numerous Old Dhaka families reeling from the terror and hurt from the loss of their loved ones.
After the fire broke out at Nanda Kumar Lane in Chawkbazar’s Churihatta area around 10:35pm Wednesday, a total of 39 fire-fighting units from 13 stations and locals fought the flames throughout the night and managed to douse them after 12 hours of effort.
They were also joined by two Bangladesh Air Force choppers in the morning as Haji Wahed Mansion — the building which had caught fire first — was still burning.
According to Fire Service and Civil Defence officials, the fire spread to several adjacent buildings in minutes as they, apart from shops, housed warehouses of plastic materials, chemical compounds, and perfume and body spray — all of which are highly flammable materials and made it difficult for the fire-fighters to extinguish the flames quickly.
The fire at Nanda Kumar Lane, however, was completely doused around 11am Thursday.
President Md Abdul Hamid, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury in separate messages expressed grief and mourned the loss of 67 lives in the fire, as condolences from people of all walks of life for the victims of the catastrophe poured in on social media.
Grief and pain
Meanwhile, DMCH became a hub of grief and pain for the victim families Thursday, February 21, a sad day which the nation observes by paying tribute to the 1952 Language Movement martyrs.
According to authorities, the 67 deceased included 56 men, seven women and four children.
As people frantically searched for their loved ones in the wards and the morgue at the hospital, the doctors and nurses continued treating the injured without showing any signs of fatigue.
As of Thursday evening, more than 60 people were admitted to DMCH with varying injuries. Nine of them were being treated in the burn unit — for burns ranging from 10% to 51%. Three of these burnt patients were in the ICU.
Dhaka Divisional Commissioner KM Ali Azam told reporters on Thursday night that 45 of the identified bodies were so far handed over to their families. The process will continue on Friday morning, he added.
The deputy commissioner’s office also revealed that among the 22 unidentified bodies, four were at the DMCH morgue, five were sent to Mitford Hospital’s morgue, three to Kurmitola General Hospital’s morgue, five each to Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College and Hospital and the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases.
Authorities will provide logistical support to the families of victims to help visit all the morgues to look for their missing loved ones, Azam said.
Three committees were also formed on Thursday by the Fire Service, the Home Ministry’s Security Services Division and the Industries Ministry to look into the great conflagration’s origin and make recommendations to avoid such incidents in the future.
The first two panels were given seven days to submit their findings, while the third one was given five days.
Dhaka South City Corporation has also formed another committee to inspect the scene of the tragedy and identify the risky buildings of the area in Chawkbazar. It will recommend further action against such buildings.
Compensation and aid
The government has announced that it will bear the medical costs of the injured and funeral costs of the deceased.
Families of each deceased will receive Tk1 lakh and each injured will receive Tk50,000 as aid, according to a Labour Ministry statement.
Health Minister Zahid Maleque announced that families of each deceased will also receive a further Tk20,000 for funeral expenses.
Meanwhile, the Disaster Management and Relief Ministry on Thursday opened four emergency helplines to receive and provide information about the people who are either still missing or yet to be identified.
Information seekers can provide and receive information on these people by calling at 01727212169, 01711966063, 01715234606 and 01556309606.