The grisly incident at Rupnagar has also left 20 others injured
In a tragic accident, six children were killed and at least 20 injured on Wednesday afternoon after a balloon seller’s gas cylinder exploded in Mirpur, Dhaka.
The casualties occurred, mostly from splinters, after the cylinder exploded on Road No 11, near Monipur School and College, at Rupnagar Residential Area around 3:25pm on Wednesday, according to witnesses and Rupnagar police station OC Abul Kalam Azad.
Families, police and doctors at different hospitals identified five of the deceased as Farzana Aktar, 6, Nupur, 11, Ramzan, 9, Rubel, 11, and Ria, 7.
The sixth deceased is yet to be identified.
The blast survivors, mostly children, were being treated at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH), Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College and Hospital (ShSMCH), and another hospital in Mirpur, confirmed their relatives and officials.
At least four of them were in critical condition, officials added.
Most of the victims were from low-income families who lived in Shialbari Slum, situated just yards away from the scene of the accident.
Slum-dwellers said their children play on that road at Rupnagar Residential Area every afternoon as there is no open space or playground in and around the slum. Most of the casualties were children as they had gathered around the balloon seller.
Cylinders used by balloon sellers generally contain helium gas. But, according to Department of Explosives, such hawkers in Bangladesh illegally produce highly combustible hydrogen gas inside the cylinders, and use that to blow up balloons and sell them.
Until the filing of this report at midnight, Fire Service and Civil Defence could not confirm what kind gas was in the cylinder in question and why it exploded.
Over the years, numerous people have been killed and injured across the country in explosions and fires caused by cylinders of compressed natural gas (CNG), used in vehicles, and liquefied petroleum gas (LGP), used for cooking, and the ones used by balloon sellers.
Most of these incidents took place due to faulty cylinders or leaked pipes or lack of awareness of the users, according to officials concerned.
Local fish trader Sumon said: “Right after the blast, I saw a child wailing and running away from the spot. One of his hands was blown off.
“Then I saw several bodies, many of them children, lying on the road, and some others with different types of injuries.”
Fire Service’s Mirpur station Senior Station Officer Anwar Hossain said four fire-fighting units had rushed to the spot immediately, but only to find the mangled bodies of the deceased and the injured on the ground.
Deceased Rubel’s father Nur Islam said when he left his son near the balloon seller’s rickshaw van, he had seen the man put some white powder into the cylinder as he had run out of gas.
When the cylinder exploded with a loud bang, at least 10 children were blasted at least 15 feet away, witnesses said.
“Right after the blast, I ran to the street and saw dead bodies of four children lying in a pool of blood. I covered up the bodies with clothes as onlookers started gathering,” said Mohammad Ali, a security guard at Sonar Bangla Market which is situated near the spot.
Locals and witnesses said the hawker, later identified by police as Abu Sayeed, used to sell balloons near the slum and the school every day.
Md Mostofa, who lives at Shialbari Slum, said the balloon seller had sustained a head injury. “It was a very deep wound. It looked very bad.”
ShSMCH Director Prof Dr Uttam Kumar Barua said 12 victims, mostly children, were brought to the hospital between 4:45pm and 6pm. "But five of them, aged between six and 11, were already dead.”
He added that three of the injured, two of whom appeared to have burn injuries, were sent to DMCH.
The injured who were treated at ShSMCH and released were identified as Parvez, 6, Mariam, 8, Mirazul, 12, and Rafi, 8.
The bodies of five deceased were kept at the morgue of Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College.
Meanwhile, a critically injured Ria was taken to National Institute of Traumatology and Orthopaedic Rehabilitation (Nitor), well known as Pongu Hospital, said Rupnagar police Inspector Dipak Kumar Das.
But she died there in the evening while undergoing treatment, he added.
Balloon seller Abu Sayeed was first admitted to this hospital too with critical injuries, confirmed Rupnagar police OC Azad. But he was moved to DMCH later around 11pm, after his condition deteriorated.
“Sayeed is undergoing treatment under police’s custody. If a case is filed over the incident, we will show him arrested in that,” said Azad.
DMCH emergency department’s Resident Surgeon Dr Alauddin Ahmed said at least 15 victims – mostly children – were admitted to the hospital soon after the incident. "Four to five children are in critical condition.”
The injured admitted to DMCH were: Mim, 8, Siam, 14, Mostakim, 8, Azufa, 7, Tania, 7, Jamila, 8, Neha, 8, Arnab, 10, Johnny, 9, Mursalin, 10, Sohel, 25, Jewel, 29, Jannat, 25, and two others who are yet to be identified.
Explosives dept in the dark
The Department of Explosives, which oversees commercial explosives, flammables and unfired pressure vessels around the country, has no estimate on explosions like Wednesday’s one or balloon sellers who uses risky gas cylinders.
Chief Inspector of Explosives Md Samsul Alam told Dhaka Tribune that the balloon sellers usually modify abandoned CNG, LPG or other type of cylinders and use them illegally. “We don't have any way to track them as they are mobile.”
“They turn these cylinders into improvised gas producing reactors by cutting off the regulators. Then they mix caustic soda and powdered aluminium inside the cylinders to produce hydrogen gas on the go,” he said.
“As long there are customers, the hawkers use up the gas to blow up balloons.
“But when they don’t, the chemical reaction inside the cylinder continues to produce hydrogen gas, which in turn generates immense pressure and increases temperature inside, posing the risk of explosion,” Samsul said.
He suspected that the fatal blast at Rupnagar occurred when the balloon seller applied the same formula to produce hydrogen gas — which, he stressed, was illegal.
Such hydrogen gas cylinders should be used only after they were properly produced in an authorized factory, he added. “But these balloon sellers are producing hydrogen gas on their own, putting lives at risk.”
The Explosives Department official also held police responsible for failing to prevent such fatal incidents. “We have notified police about the illegal use of such cylinders many times. But they are yet to take proper action.”
Our DMCH Correspondent Aminul Islam Babu contributed to this report