At least 35 dead, 450 injured following fire and explosions at chemical depot

New Delhi: At least 35 people have been killed and more than 450 injured in a massive fire caused by an explosion that swept through a private chemical container depot in southeast Bangladesh, officials said on Sunday June 5.

At around 9 p.m. on Saturday evening, the fire broke out at BM Container Depot in Kadamrasul area of ​​Sitakunda Upazila in Chittagong.

The fire triggered a huge explosion and several container explosions at the depot. Firefighters said they were still trying to put out the flames midday on Sunday as containers full of chemicals still exploded.

Firefighters try to contain the fire at a container facility in Sitakunda, Bangladesh, June 4, 2022, in this screenshot obtained from social media video. Photo: Oliur Rahman via Facebook/via REUTERS

So far, 35 corpses have reached the morgue, a police officer stationed at Chattagram Medical College Hospital (CMCH) told reporters.

More than 450 people were injured in this incident, including at least 350 at CMCH,” said Istakul Islam, Head of Health and Youth Services Department of Red Crescent, Chittagong, as quoted by the Dhaka Grandstand.

“The death toll could be higher in other hospitals,” Islam said.

The death toll could rise as some of the injured are in critical condition, Chittagong Civil Surgeon Mohammed Elias Hossain said. Among the injured were firefighters and police, he said.

He said all doctors in the district had been called in to help deal with the situation as social media was flooded with calls for emergency blood donations.

Five firefighters also died and at least 50 others, including 10 police officers, were injured, he added.

The government has announced compensation for the families of those killed and injured

Meanwhile, Chattogram (DC) Divisional Commissioner Ashraf Uddin said the families of the deceased are being paid Taka 50,000 (approximately Rs 43,500) through the DC office. Meanwhile, 20,000 Taka (about Rs 17,400) are given to the families of the injured, the daily star reported.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina mourned the deaths of people and ordered the mobilization of all facilities for the rescue campaign. Officials formed a high-level commission of inquiry asking him to submit a report within three days.

How the fire started

CMCH Police Outpost Sub-Inspector (SI) Nurul Alam said a fire broke out at the container depot around 9pm on Saturday. As firefighters worked to put it out, there was an explosion and then the fire spread.

Nurul added that initially it was suspected that the container depot had caught fire due to chemicals, the report added.

Around 11:45 p.m., a massive explosion occurs and the fire spreads from one container to another due to the presence of chemicals in one of the containers.

The depot was mostly empty. Firefighters, police and other rescuers rushed to the scene after the fire broke out and a container explosion after the container full of chemicals killed them, a witness said to the PTI news agency by telephone.

The blast rocked the neighborhood and shattered window panes in nearby homes, the report added.

Media reports, including TV footage, showed the blast shattered the windows of several nearby buildings and was felt in areas as far away as 4km, creating panic.

Firefighters try to contain the fire at a container facility in Sitakunda, Bangladesh, June 4, 2022, in this screenshot obtained from social media video. Photo: Oliur Rahman via Facebook/via REUTERS

Deputy Director of Chittagong Fire and Civil Defense Service Md Faruk Hossain Sikdar said: “About 19 firefighting units are working to put out the fire and six ambulances are also on site.”

Several types of chemicals, such as hydrogen peroxide and sulfur, were stored in containers at the depot and the chemicals apparently started the fire, fire chief Brigadier General Mohammad Mainuddin told reporters. journalists at the scene in the Sitakunda area, on the outskirts of the port. town.

Toxic fumes reportedly engulfed the area after the explosions, making rescue and firefighting efforts more difficult.

The state-run Chattagram Medical College Hospital received most of those injured in the fire while several others, including dozens of firefighters, were treated at a military hospital and private facilities.

In a statement, Mujibur Rahman, manager of BM Container Depot, said the cause of the fire was unclear. “But I think the fire started from the container.”

“Arrangements are being made to ensure that the injured receive the best treatment. We will bear all processing costs. Those who were injured in the accident will receive the maximum compensation,” Rahman said as quoted by the daily star.

“In addition, we will take responsibility for all the families of all the victims,” ​​he added.

BM Container Depot is set up as an inland container depot which has been operating since May 2011. The private container depot was built on 21 acres of land in Sitakunda area of ​​Chattagram beside the Bay of Bengal coastline .

Lax industrial security measures

Bangladesh has flourished over the past decade to become the world’s second-largest garment exporter, but infrastructure and institutional readiness for industrial security are still nascent there, the International Labor Organization said earlier this year.

Lax regulations and poor enforcement in the South Asian country have often been blamed for several large fires that have claimed hundreds of lives in recent years.

In 2020, three people were killed after an oil tank exploded at a container depot in the Patenga area of ​​Chittagong.

In July last year, 54 people died when a blaze ripped through a food processing factory outside the capital, Dhaka.

At least 70 people have died in a fire that engulfed several buildings in a centuries-old part of the Bangladesh capital in 2020.

(With contributions from Reuters, PTI)