Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Devastating Fire in Dhaka Claims Lives: 43 Dead, Many Injured

HomeU.S.Devastating Fire in Dhaka Claims Lives: 43 Dead, Many Injured

A massive fire tore through a crowded restaurant and shopping complex in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka on Thursday night, leaving at least 43 people dead and dozens more with critical injuries.

The deadly blaze started around 8:30pm local time on the ground floor of a six-story building on Bailey Road, in an area packed with popular restaurants and shops. Flames raced up stairwells and ventilation shafts, filling upper floors with thick, toxic smoke and trapping diners and shoppers inside.

Chaos and Confusion as Fire Erupts

Witnesses described scenes of chaos and panic as the fire erupted with a series of loud explosions from gas cylinders stored haphazardly throughout the building.

“There were huge flames and black smoke everywhere. People were screaming and trying to run outside but they couldn’t escape because the smoke was too thick,” said Abu Bakar, who owns a clothing shop on the building’s second floor.

Restaurant workers helped as many customers as they could evacuate down exterior staircases before the flames engulfed the entire structure. But the intense fire and lack of adequate emergency exists prevented more from escaping.

“We tried to get everyone out but the fire was too fast. Two of my coworkers died trying to save people,” recalled Sohel Rana, manager of a restaurant on the sixth floor.

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Desperate Escape Attempts Lead to Casualties

With main stairwells impassable, many trapped on upper floors attempted to climb down the building’s exterior to escape the suffocating fumes. Some lost their grip and fell to their deaths on the street below.

“There was no way out so I broke a window and jumped. I barely survived but saw others fall and get badly injured,” said Mohammad Altaf, one of the survivors.

Meanwhile, crowds gathered on the sidewalks and roof of an adjacent building to watch fire crews battle the raging blaze. They assisted firefighters by carrying hoses and catching victims who jumped from windows.

“We formed a human chain to help people get down. But the smoke was too much and over 40 people died, some in our arms,” recalled Kamruzzaman Majumdar, a professor who was part of the volunteer rescue effort.

Rush to Save Burn Victims

It took over two hours for more than a dozen fire crews to get the massive fire under control. When the smoke finally cleared, the true scale of the tragedy emerged.

At least 43 people were pronounced dead at the scene or after being rushed to Dhaka Medical College Hospital and other local clinics. The death toll continued rising Friday morning as more victims succumbed to severe burn injuries and smoke inhalation overnight.

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“Most deaths were from suffocation. Another 15-20 people have critical injuries from burns and may not survive,” said Health Minister Dr. Samanta Lal Sen, who coordinated emergency medical response.

Families anxiously waited at the hospital overnight for news about missing loved ones. Some collapsed in grief upon learning their relatives perished in the fire.

“My youngest sister was having dinner at the restaurant with her family. Now she and her daughter are gone,” sobbed Tania Akter.

Lack of Safety Standards Worsened Tragedy

While the exact cause remains under investigation, authorities cited dangerous lapses in fire safety protections that allowed the blaze to spread rapidly and claim so many lives.

The building lacked adequate emergency exists, fire extinguishers, smoke alarms and escape signage. Restaurant kitchens were outfitted with numerous gas cylinders that exploded when ignited by the flames. And construction materials like wood paneling and textile awnings accelerated the fire’s growth.

“This tragedy demonstrates the urgent need for stronger safety regulations. We must prevent such needless loss of life in the future,” said Main Uddin, Director of the national Fire Service and Civil Defence agency.

His department along with police have launched an inquiry into the fire’s origin and contributing factors. Investigators will also assess whether negligence on the part of building owners or city officials played a role.

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Systemic Issues Underlie Frequent Fires

Lax enforcement of building codes and substandard construction practices have long plagued Bangladesh. Fires, explosions and structural collapses occur regularly, often exacting a devastating human toll.

Critics argue that rampant corruption and negligence from an understaffed regulatory bureaucracy allows dangerous violations to persist uncorrected. Business owners routinely flout rules on fire exits, extinguishers and electrical systems to save on costs.

Greed of owners and corruption of officials is killing people. No lessons are learned,” asserted prominent engineer and urban planner A.K.M. Fazlul Hoque.

The horrific tragedy on Bailey Road is sadly just the latest in a long line of catastrophic fires. Back in 2012, over 100 garment workers perished when flames engulfed their factory outside Dhaka. Another blaze in 2019 destroyed sections of the city’s historic district, killing 70.

Thursday’s fire now ranks among Bangladesh’s deadliest such disasters. While the full human impact is still being tallied, the heartbreaking costs are already clear. Loved ones, friends and entire families were lost in a matter of hours, leaving only grief and demands for meaningful reforms.

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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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