Dhaka, Mar 28 (UNB) - At least 19 people were killed in a deadly fire at a high-rise building in the capital’s Banani commercial area on Thursday afternoon.
Officials say at least 70 others were injured but declined to comment on their current state. It is still not known if anyone of those injured is in serious condition.
The fire broke out at FR Tower on Kemal Ataturk Avenue around 12:45pm on Thursday and swept through the building, engulfing it in thick, black smoke. The 22-storey building housed many offices.
Tushar-or-Rashid, an employee of the Vivid Holidays tour company on the building's first floor, said the fire began above them.
“All of our staff came out safely but we don’t know what happened to the people who work in the upper floors,” he told news agency AP.
The first firefighting unit reached the spot in 20 minutes. It took firefighters more than five and a half hours to extinguish the flames. The Air Force, Navy and Army assisted in the rescue.
“Thirteen bodies were retrieved from the spot, while three died at United Hospital, two at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) and one at Kurmitola General Hospital,” said Khurshid Anwar, senior station officer of Fire Service and Civil Defence.
Hospital officials and police identified six of the victims as Monir, 50, Mamun, 36, Maksudur, 32, Parvez Ahmed, 55, Nirash Chandra, a Sri Lankan national, and Abdullah Al Faruque.
Fire Service chief Brig Gen Md Sazzad Hussain said no one of the victims burned to death. “Those who died at hospitals were injured after jumping off the building. Victims who were found dead inside the building had died from suffocation,” he told the media later at night.
Panicked people tried to jump off the building to safety but many were injured. Banani is a busy area packed with high-rise buildings housing offices, universities and restaurants. Residents of FR Tower’s adjoining buildings also left their flats fearing danger.
Around 30 people who fell sick due to suffocation were taken to Kurmitola General Hospital. Forty-one of the injured people were admitted to Kurmitola General Hosptial, 23 to United Hosptial, four to DMCH and the rest to other hospitals.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has ordered the Health Ministry to ensure proper treatment for the injured, said Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia.
Health Minister Zahid Maleque said the bodies will be kept at DMCH.
President Abdul Hamid, PM Hasina, and Foreign Minister AK Momen have mourned the fire victims.
Poor safety record
The Fire Service and Disaster Management Ministry have formed separate committees to probe the fire incident.
Brig Gen Sazzad said boards used in internal decoration, plastic and electronic items helped the fire spread rapidly and increase its intensity. The fire ravaged the eighth, ninth and the 10th floor.
Sazzad declined to comment on what sparked the fire before the investigation was over. He said their search operations would continue until 10am Friday.
Dhaka, one of the world’s most densely-populated cities, is no stranger to big fires that claim dozens of lives. Only last month, a deadly blaze killed 70 people in Old Dhaka.
Fire safety regulations are often overlooked when constructing buildings in the city where many buildings do not have fire escapes or proper firefighting equipment.
Brig Gen Sazzad said the FR Tower had “minimal firefighting equipment”.
“And, they were unusable,” he said.