Sitakunda: Many relatives of those missing in an explosion at a container depot in Bangladesh gathered at a hospital on Monday to take DNA samples to identify the burnt bodies, which killed more than 40 people.
The fire broke out at a private warehouse containing about 4,000 containers at Sitakunda, about 40 km from the main port of Chittagong in the south-east of the country, around 9:30 pm (3:30 pm GMT) on Saturday.
Hundreds of firefighters were immediately dispatched to the scene to extinguish the blaze, which spread to several containers filled with chemicals, causing a massive explosion an hour later, the fire service said.
On Monday afternoon, authorities reduced the death toll from the disaster to at least 41, up from 49 initially announced.
They said at least 14 people on board a military plane in the capital Dhaka had been evacuated, with 50-60% of them burnt and more than 300 injured. Dozens of people, including two firefighters, are still missing.
Many relatives of the missing gathered at Chittagong Medical College Hospital on Monday, where police and doctors collected DNA samples from them in an attempt to identify the burn victims.
“I lost my child”
After waiting for hours, Munni Akhter, 25, the sister of Mohammad Akhter, a young truck driver who went missing at the scene of the blast, was tested for tears.
“My brother commented live on Facebook (Agun). Then the explosion happens and everything goes black. We haven’t found him since, “he explained.
Abdul Hannan, 60, refuses to believe in the death of his son. “My son called his wife to report the fire. He heard an explosion on the phone. Since then, we have not been able to communicate, “he said, breaking down:” I have lost my child, O God! ”
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan visited the spot and assured justice. “Anyone who commits this crime will be punished according to the law,” he told reporters.
The blast killed at least nine firefighters. “Never in the history of the fire department have so many firefighters died,” said Purnachandra Mutsuddi, deputy superintendent of the Chittagong Fire Station, who was leading the operation on Saturday.
The 10.5-hectare site had “no fire safety plans”, he said, adding that he regretted that depot authorities had not “informed them of the presence of chemicals, including hydrogen peroxide”.
“If they had done that, the death toll would have been much lower,” he said.
Severe chemical reactions
Because “there are rules for storing hydrogen peroxide,” he said, “if we had known, we would never have used water. We would never have entered the depot with our car.”
Unaware of the presence of hydrogen peroxide at the site, his team rushed to fight the fire with water which undoubtedly caused a deadly chemical reaction, he explained, “a container flew more than 150 meters”.
“The explosion sent fireballs into the sky. Fireballs are falling like rain. We were so frightened that we immediately fled, ”said Mohammad Ali, 60, who runs a grocery store nearby.
The search for the other victims was hampered by a fire on Monday that has not yet been completely extinguished. Smoke billowed from dozens of pots. “About 30 to 40 containers are still burning,” said Harunur Rashid, a fire service inspector.
Billions of rupees of smoke
About 90% of Bangladesh’s estimated 100 billion trade goes through Chittagong.
Mominur Rahman, the district’s chief administrator, said the depot also contained millions of dollars worth of clothes that were supposed to be exported to western countries.
According to Rakibul Alam Chowdhury of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), the fire destroyed garments worth about 110 110 million, “a huge loss to the industry”.
In February 2019, at least 70 people were killed and 55 injured in a massive fire at apartment buildings in Dhaka where chemicals were stored illegally.