Dozens of workers still missing
The massive fire in a food processing factory in Narayanganj has left at least 52 people killed with dozens of workers still missing.
Firefighters recovered 49 charred bodies on Friday from the burning factory building of Hashem Food Ltd, a concern of Sajeeb Group, taking the death toll to 52.
Three deaths were reported in the immediate aftermath of the fire on Thursday at the six-storey factory building at the Kornogop area of Bhulta in the district’s Rupganj upazila.
Over 50 other workers were also injured after jumping off the building immediately after the fire broke out.
It took 18 fire-fighting units from Narayanganj and Dhaka almost 24 hours to tame the blazes. Fire service said that they managed to douse the flames around 5:30pm, while the search and rescue operation continued amid smoke still brewing off the fourth and fifth floors of the building.
The 49 bodies were recovered from the fourth floor of the building where most of the workers took shelter, fire officials say. They could be identified later once DNA tests are conducted at Dhaka Medical College.
Relatives of missing workers gathered outside the factory after learning about the fire on Thursday afternoon.
The local administration has drawn up a list of 44 missing workers based on statements from relatives until 1pm on Friday, said local police.
The massive fire
Fire officials said it was difficult to bring the blaze under control due to the plastic and chemicals stored in parts of the building.
The severe heat from the blaze has caused cracks in a part of the building. The windows, including aluminum structures, are falling apart, with plumes of black smoke billowing out of the factory.
"After dousing the fire, it started again. Eighteen units brought the blaze under control in 20 hours,” Fire Service and Civil Defence Deputy Director Debashish Bardhan said.
Flammable items were present
Fighting the blazes proved difficult as flammable items, including chemicals were stored at the factory building.
“There were various other materials including plastic, foil, paper, resin, and especially edible oil,” Deputy Director Bardhan said.
Fire Service Assistant Director Monir Hossain said the building had a pipeline to transport edible oil from one floor to another, which exploded.
“That edible oil had been burning as fuel for so long. There was also a lot of plastic material and cardboard boxes,” he said.
Workers jumped off the building
The factory, which manufactures various juices, soft drinks and food items, caught fire around 4:30pm on Thursday. Fire Service officials say they were informed about the fire around 5:50pm.
Firefighters said many people jumped off the building in a bid to save themselves from the blaze. Three of them succumbed to their injuries late on Thursday.
Mina Akter, 40, and Swapna Rani, 38, died on the way to a local hospital, according to Kanchan Fire Service Station Officer Shah Alam.
Another worker, Musralin, 24, died while undergoing treatment at Dhaka Medical College Hospital on Thursday night, said Inspector Bachchu Mia of the hospital’s police outpost.
Mursalin was taken to the hospital along with 11-13 others in the evening. A dozen others were admitted at US-Bangla Medical College and Hospital in Narayanganj’s Rupganj upazila town.
All of them were injured when they jumped off the second and third floors of the building, according to emergency responders.
Gates kept locked
Survivors and relatives alleged the front gate, which is the only way to enter and leave the factory premises, had been locked since the fire broke out.
When most of the workers took refuge on the fourth floor on Thursday afternoon, the factory officials locked the gate of the floor. The charred bodies found on Friday were recovered from that floor.
If the gates were not locked, the workers could go up as a massive fire broke out downstairs and could be rescued later, according to senior Fire Service official Debashish .
The factory building had no proper fire safety measures. The 35,000-square feet building was supposed to have four or five stairways for emergency exit but there were only two, said Lt Colonel Zillur Rahman, a Fire Service director, told the media.
Due to massive fire, both exits were unusable, according to him.
Several local people and workers said that another small fire broke out in the factory two weeks ago, when a worker was killed in the incident.
Moreover, on July 1, the workers demonstrated demanding dues and allowance for overtime.
Enraged by delays in rescuing the people trapped inside the building, relatives of the deceased and missing workers protested in front of the factory building and occupying Dhaka-Sylhet Highway since Thursday.
Tempers began to flare on Friday, when the survivors and relatives vandalized vehicles. A clash with the police ensued, and tear gas shells were fired to disperse the agitated crowd.
Bodies severely burnt, no way to recognize
There is no way to recognize the corpses recovered in the fire incident.
Narayanganj police said that the bodies will be handed over to the relatives after conducting DNA tests.
Narayanganj Additional Superintendent of Police Subash Chandra Saha told reporters at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital on Friday that the bodies will be kept at the morgue.
“The bodies of those which have been recovered are burnt in such a way that there is no way to recognize them. The bodies will be handed over to the relatives through DNA test,” he said.
The Narayanganj district administration has formed a probe panel to look into the incident.
A seven-strong committee has been ordered to file its report within seven days, Additional Deputy Commissioner Shamim Bepari, who will head the probe, told the media in Dhaka.
Process of identification
Additional SP Subash told the media the CID’s crime scene unit will collect samples for DNA profiling.
If relatives fail to identify bodies, then their DNA samples will be collected matched against those of the victims.
President Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina have expressed profound shock and grief over the loss of lives in the fire.
Narayanhganj district administration has declared Tk30,000 and Tk10,000 as compensation for the families of each deceased and each injured.
The district administration will also provide Tk25,000 to the families of deceased victims for the burial.
State Minister for Labour and Employment Begum Monnujan Sufian on Friday announced assistance to the relatives of the victims from the Workers Welfare Foundation fund under the Ministry of Labour.
Medical aid would be provided to the injured workers from the workers' welfare fund, she also said.