At least 40 people were killed and over 450 injured in a massive fire caused by an explosion that swept through a private chemical container depot in southeastern Bangladesh, officials said on Sunday.
On Saturday night, the fire broke out at BM Container Depot in the Kadamrasul area in Sitakunda Upazila in Chittagong.
“So far 40 dead bodies reached the morgue here,” a police officer stationed at the state-run Chattagram Medical College Hospital (CMCH) said.
“Over 450 people have been injured in this incident of which, at least 350 are at CMCH," Istakul Islam, chief of the Health & Service Department at Red Crescent Youth Chittagong was quoted as saying by the Dhaka Tribune.
"The death toll could be more at other hospitals,” Islam said.
Meanwhile, Chattogram Divisional Commissioner (DC) Ashraf Uddin further said that families of the deceased are being given $560 (Taka 50,000) by the DC office. Meanwhile, $224 (Taka 20,000) is being given to the families of the injured, the Daily Star reported.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina mourned the death of people and ordered the mobilisation of all facilities for the salvage campaign. Officials formed a high-powered investigation committee demanding it to submit a report in the next three days.
CMCH Police Outpost Sub-Inspector (SI) Nurul Alam said a fire broke out at the container depot around 9 pm on Saturday. As Fire Service units worked to put it out, there was an explosion and then the fire spread.
Nurul added that initially it was being suspected that the container depot caught fire due to chemicals, the report added. Around 11:45 pm, there was a massive explosion and the fire spread from one container to another due to the presence of chemicals in one of the containers.
“The depot was largely empty, the firefighters, policemen and other rescuers rushed to the scene after the fire initially broke out and the explosion of containers after containers filled with chemicals killed them,” a witness told PTI over the phone.
The explosion shook the neighbourhood and shattered glasses of windows of nearby houses, the report added.
Chittagong Fire Service and Civil Defence Assistant Director Md Faruk Hossain Sikdar said: "Around 19 firefighting units are working to douse the blaze and six ambulances are also available on the spot."
“Several types of chemicals like hydrogen peroxide were stored in containers at the depot and the chemicals have visibly sparked the fire,” fire service chief Brigadier General Mohammad Mainuddin told at the scene in the Sitakunda area on the outskirts of the port city.
The state-run Chattagram Medical College Hospital accommodated most of the fire wounded patients while several others including scores of firefighters were being treated at a military hospital and some private facilities.
In a statement, Mujibur Rahman, director of the BM Container Depot, said it was not clear what caused the fire. "But I think the fire started from the container".
"Arrangements are being made to ensure that the injured get the best treatment. We will bear the entire cost of the treatment. Those who were injured in the accident will be given the maximum compensation," Rahman was quoted as saying 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 the Sitakunda area of Chattagram adjacent to the Bay of Bengal coastlines.