15 injured, mostly pedestrians; five in critical condition; three probe teams formed
Seven people were killed, and at least 15 others were injured in Chittagong city on Sunday, after a gas explosion on the ground floor of a five-story building that partially collapsed one of its walls on a busy road.
Fire Service and Civil Defence said the blast was caused by gas, leaked either from the pipeline or the riser inside the building, named Barua Bhaban on Brickfield Road in Patharghata area.
Karnaphuli Gas Distribution Company Ltd (KGDCL) also stressed that there was no leak on its gas supply pipeline or the riser.
The incident and subsequent casualties occurred after the explosion inside the building at around 9:08 am, according to police and firefighters.
Seven of the victims — four men, two women, and a child — were declared dead on arrival at Chittagong Medical College Hospital (CMCH), said the hospital police outpost’s Inspector Jahirul Alam.
Citing duty doctors, he said: “These seven died when the wall collapsed on them, not due to the blast or burn injuries.”
Of the eight injured admitted to CMCH, at least five people — Sandhya Rani Debi, Arpita Kumar Nath, Tisha Gomez, Yusuf, and Abdul Hamid — were in critical condition, according to Dr. Rivu Raj Chakrabarti, head of the hospital’s casualty department.
The building accommodated 20 families, including landlord Amal Barua and his family who lived on the top floor.
Twelve firefighting units from three stations, on information, started the rescue operation soon after the blast, and continued until 4:30 pm, said sources at Fire Service’s Chittagong divisional office.
Chittagong Fire Service’s Deputy Assistant Director Purna Chandra Mutsuddi said: “We were informed within minutes after the incident, that’s why we were able to start the rescue operation immediately.”
“The explosion occurred on the ground floor due to a leakage in the building’s faulty gas pipeline. The gas riser, which was inside the extended portion of the ground floor flat instead of outside, was also blown in the explosion,” he added.
Karnaphuli Gas Distribution Company Ltd (KGDCL) Managing Director Khayer Ahmed Majumdar claimed that there were no leaks in the gas pipeline, and riser of the building.
“A septic tank may have exploded. Our gas pipe and riser are still intact. They did not cause the blast. We are sure of this,” he stressed.
But Fire Service official Purna brushed off the chances of a septic tank blast.
Later in the day, the district administration and Chittagong City Corporation, Chittagong Metropolitan Police, and KGDCL formed three separate committees to investigate the reasons behind the fatal incident.
The teams were given different timeframes to submit their findings.
Until 8:30 pm on Sunday, six of the deceased were identified, confirmed CMCH police outpost Inspector Jahirul.
They are painter Nurul Islam, 30, schoolteacher Annie Barua, 40, housewife Julekha Farzana, 30 and her son Atiqur Rahman Shuvo, 8, rickshaw puller Abdul Sukkur, 50, and rickshaw-van puller Md Selim, 40.
Quoting witnesses, Kotwali police OC (investigation) Kamruzzaman said Nurul was walking past Barua Bhaban when the blast took place. “He died on the spot.”
He said the injured included mostly pedestrians and some residents of the building.
Dr. Rafiq Uddin Ahmed, head of CMCH burn unit, said Arpita, who is among the critically injured, sustained 30% burns. “Her respiratory organ has been badly damaged.”
She was later shifted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital for better treatment.
Tisha, a schoolteacher, suffered multiple injuries on her head, chest, and face. She was moved to the ICU as her physical condition kept deteriorating, said casualty department’s, Dr Rivu Raj.
Meanwhile, Chittagong City Corporation Mayor AJM Nasir Uddin announced that the city corporation would bear the medical costs for the injured.
Apart from giving Tk1 lakh each to the families of the deceased, he said the city corporation would also bear the necessary expenses required for their funerals.
The district administration also pledged Tk20,000 to each of the deceased’s families as financial aid.
‘I’ve lost everything’
Advocate Ataur Rahman lost his wife Farzana and son Shuvo in on Sunday's incident. The man was seen wailing at CMCH while informing his relatives over the mobile phone.
Later, he told Dhaka Tribune that Farzana was taking their son, who was a student of Saint Placid's School and College, to a private tutor in the morning.
They were walking by the building when the blast occurred. They were killed on the spot after a portion of the wall collapsed on them, he said.
“I have lost my family, everything,” Ataur added, breaking down in tears.
Arnab Kumar Nath, a seventh-grader, said Arpita was his elder sister and Sandhya Rani Devi his aunt. “They were injured very badly in the blast.”
He said: “We live on the ground floor. I was at a nearby shop for buying breakfast.
“All of a sudden, I heard the loud bang. I rushed home and found a portion of the wall collapsed. My aunt and sister were lying under the rubble.”