Deceased include Sri Lankan national, about 100 injured, many reportedly missing, probe bodies formed
At least 19 people, including a Sri Lankan national, was killed, over 100 were injured and scores were reportedly missing as fire tore through a 23-storey commercial building at Banani in Dhaka on Thursday.
Rescue workers feared that the death toll might rise as fire fighters recovered charred bodies from FR Tower where an unknown number of office staff were trapped being engulfed by smoke and flames.
At about 11:30pm, the fire service and civil defence control room notice board set up at the spot updated the death toll to 19.
Identities of the deceased were not disclosed by the police or other authorities as the fire service and civil defence officials said they would be continuing search and rescue operations at eighth to 11th floor of the building until Friday morning.
Deceased Sri Lankan national Nirosh Vigma Rajah, 28, worked with Scanwell Logistics in the building, said Banani police station officer-in-charge BM Forman Ali. The formalities of the handover of the bodies were underway, he added.
The families and the police identified eight of the deceased as Parjez Hossain, 47, of Gopalganj, Mamun, 36, of Regent Air Express, Amina Yesmin, 40, of Molvibazar who was on the ninth floor, Abdullah Al Faruk, 35, who was on the 10th floor, Maksudur Rahman, 36, of Gendaria, Rezaul Karim Kazi, 42, of Asif International, Mizanur Rahman, 35, and Rumki, 35.
At about 11:00pm, Gulshan police senior assistant commissioner Rafikul Islam said that they had so far identified 15 deceased.
The fire broke out at about noon but the source of the fire could not be established yet, officials said.
A number of officials and neighbours said another fire had broken up at the basement of the building few years ago.
FR Tower security guard Md Jahangir Alam said that he saw smoke first at the 8th floor.
He said that the building housed many corporate offices and few shops on ground floor and the first floor.
Bangladesh army, navy, air force and police, among others, joined the 22 fire fighting units.
Some of those trapped were seen waving frantically from the windows and roof and screaming for help while others tried to jump to safety as hundreds of panicked onlookers crowded the streets in Banani commercial area, witnesses said.
Fire fighters perched on cranes smashed windows in an attempt to reach those inside.
Many relatives of the missing were seen searching their dear ones and put their name on the list prepared by Red Crescent on the spot.
At press conference near the fire spot, state minister for disaster management and relief Enamur Rahman said that the government was looking after the treatment facilities of the injured while the Dhaka district administration was looking after the burial process.
He said that an eight-member team headed by one of his additional secretary was formed to investigate the reason of the fire and to check what the lapses were that led the fire.
The Dhaka north city mayor Atiqul Islam said that had the building its own fire fighting team, devastation could be have been minimised.
He also blamed poor fire exits of the building.
At about 10:00pm at another briefing, Awami League acting secretary general Mahbubul Alam Hanif said that the government would definitely check whether the building management followed the building code properly. Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripkkha was already been tasked with that, he said.
The north city mayor Atiqul Islam said that they would launch probe shortly to check whether the building were following building code.
Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha chairman Abdur Rahman said that the city development authority formed a five-member committee to investigate how the owner extended the building to 23 storeys despite having approval for 18 storeys.
The home ministry formed a six-member probe committee led by security services division additional secretary Tarun Kanti Shikder to find the reason behind the fire and damage.
Housing and Public Works ministry formed another six-member probe committee led by additional secretary Yakub Ali Patwary to investigate whether any irregularities were there in the building plan and designing.
Both the probe bodies were asked to submit reports in seven days.
A number of the witnesses said the fire broke out at eighth floor of the building after noon and people started fleeing to safety. People of nearby building also left their building, all shops were closed and many joined the rescue operations.
Many people jumped from the height as smoke and flame engulfed the building very quickly and several others fell down and died on the spot as they tried escaping the fire sliding down cables.
Civil rescuer Md Jasim Uddin said that many people requested the fire service times and again to rescue them for the inferno by signalling to them with mobile phone lights and clothes and waving hands as there was no emergency exit.
Private company employee Al Mamun said that his friend Dird Group employee Rimana Sanzida Akter was trapped on the 12th floor.
Health service emergency operation centre and control room officials said that 19 bodies were kept at different hospitals — Seven at Kurmitola General Hospital, four at Combined Military Hospital, three United Hospital, two at Dhaka Medcial College Hospital, one each at Apollo Hospital and Banani Clinic — as they were brought bead and died while trying to escape fire by jumping.
Dhaka Medical College Hospital police outpost in-charge Bacchu Miah said that EURO Service Bd Ltd assistant manager Abdullah Al Faroque was brought dead and travel agency executive Rumki Akhter, 35, died soon she was rushed to the hospital.
‘There was no visible sign of burn injury on her [Rumki] body,’ said the police inspector, adding, ‘it seems she died from suffocation, apparently suffering a long time and at the same time giving rescuers more time to save her.’
Rumki’s cousin Imtiaz Ahmed said that Rumki and her husband Maksudur Rahman worked at the same travel agency housed on the 22nd floor. Maksud jumped from the building to escape fire and was rushed to United Hospital where doctors declared him dead.
‘These lives could surely have been saved had we have proper fire fighting capacity,’ said Imtiaz.
Fire survivor Mofazzal Hossain told New Age that he was working at the 18th floor of the building with Dird Group.
‘We got the call from the downstairs about the fire and I rushed to the rooftop and jumped on the nearby rooftop along with many others and escaped the fire,’ said Mofazzal in broken voice.
He said that it was a matter of few minutes.
He alleged that the fire fighters came 40 minutes after the fire had broken out and started operation with their fire engine which was not working on the ground.
Mofazzal also said during his four years of service in the building, he never saw any fire drill there.
At 8:00pm, the fire service and civil defence director Major Shakil Newaz said they would continue their rescue operations but they had to break all doors which they found locked during the rescue operation.
Immediate past fire service director general retired brigadier general Ali Ahmed Khan rushed to the spot and monitored the fire fighting operations.
He told New Age that he found lack of coordination among the agencies working in the operations.
Traffic on the Kamal Ataturk Avenue was suspended immediately after the fire incident at 12:50pm as the hundreds of people crowded around the spot.
Criminal Investigation Department officials visited the building and collected evidences at about 10:30pm.
Durnata Television and Radio Today, housed in nearby buildings, suspended their broadcasting immediately after the fire.
President Abdul Hamid, prime minister Sheikh Hasina and leaders of different political parties expressed their shock over the deaths in the fire.
The fire erupted barely a month after at least 70 people were killed in a fire in buildings where illegally stored chemicals exploded at Chawk Bazar in the Old Town of Dhaka on February 20.
Prime Minister’s special assistant Biplob Barua, Nagorik Oikya Convener, Mahmudur Rahman Manna and Dhaka University Central Students’ Union vice-president Nurul Haque Nur, among others, were seen visiting the fire scene.
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