- Around 50 people were injured in the fire that lasted more than 9 hours
- Some floors of the destroyed buildings had chemicals and plastic in storage
DHAKA: Dozens of people have been killed in a devastating blaze that ripped through buildings in the Chawkbazar area of Old Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, officials and witnesses said Thursday.
At least 70 people are known to have died and approximately 50 others were injured, but the toll is expected to rise.
Approximately 200 firefighters tackled the blaze for more than five hours.
The Chawkbazar area is crammed with buildings separated by narrow alleys. The neighborhood is a mix of residential and commercial, with buildings that commonly have shops, restaurants or warehouses on the ground floors.
The blaze started late Wednesday night in one building but quickly spread to others, fire department Director General Brig. Gen. Ali Ahmed said.
The death toll is expected to rise, with many of the victims trapped inside the buildings, said Mahfuz Riben, a control room official of the Fire Service and Civil Defense in Dhaka.
“Our teams are working there but many of the recovered bodies are beyond recognition. Our people are using body bags to send them to the hospital morgue, this is a very difficult situation,” he told AP by phone.
Some floors of the destroyed buildings had chemicals and plastic in storage.
Most buildings are used both for residential and commercial purposes despite warnings of the potential for high fatalities from fires after one had killed at least 123 people in 2010. Authorities had promised to bring the buildings under regulations and remove chemical warehouses from the residential buildings.
The death toll could still rise as the condition of some of the injured people was critical, said Samanta Lal Sen, head of a burn unit of the Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
Sen said at least nine of the critically injured people were being treated in his unit.
Witnesses told local TV stations that many gas cylinders stored in the buildings continued to explode one after another. They said the fire also set off explosions in fuel tanks of some of the vehicles that got stuck in traffic in front of the destroyed buildings.