A massive blaze, followed by a powerful explosion, at a private container depot in Bangladesh's Chittagong district left at least 45 people, including nine firefighters, dead and injured some 500 others, authorities said on Sunday.
The incident at the BM Container Depot at Keshabpur of Sitakunda sub-district in Chittagong occurred at around 10.45 p.m. (local time) on Saturday. The blast was so powerful that it was heard even four kilometres away and the window glasses of nearby houses was shattered.
Authorities said that within 40 minutes of the raging fire, there was a massive explosion and the blaze spread from one container to the other due to the presence of explosive chemicals.
A 500-metre tin shed at the container depot contained a huge amount of hydrogen peroxide, a local official told media. Besides, various imported and exported goods were also kept in the depot.
Alongside 25 fire service units from Chittagong, Feni, Noakhali and Cumilla, 250 army personnel have been trying to bring the fire under control for over 20 hours, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said.
The army team is working to check the spread of chemicals and also working on checking the extent of chemical leakage from the depot into the bay.
Director General of Fire Service and Civil Defence, Brigadier General Md Moin Uddin said: "A 14-member special team of the fire service from Dhaka has gone to Sitakunda to douse the fire at the container depot. The team is being led by Assistant Director, Training, Monir Hossain. They've already started working there."
Chittagong Medical College Hospital Director, Brigadier General Shameem Hasan said a number of injured were discharged after primary treatment while 70 others are undergoing treatment. Four people were admitted in the ICU in the hospital, he added.
As its designated burn unit ran out of space, its gynaecology ward is being used for providing treatment to the injured with patients of the gynaecology ward shifted to other wards, Assistant Registrar Liton Kumar Palit said.
Besides, 2 injured are getting treatment at the ICU at Chittagong General Hospital, its Superintendent Dr Sk Fazle Rabbi told IANS.
Some of the injured were referred to Sheikh Hasina Burn Institute in Dhaka for better treatment on Sunday morning, its coordinator, Professor Dr Samanta Lal Sen told IANS
"The three were brought this morning with nearly 14-15 per cent burn injuries. Part of their lungs have also been damaged.They will require ICU support."
Meanwhile, most of the missing persons family members are searching for their kin in all wards of the CMCH.
"I couldn't find my husband, Jewel," Jasmine, seen running around the CMCH holding her 3-year-old daughter in one hand and her 8-year-old son in the other in his search, told IANS. She went to the emergency room, then the burns unit, before despairingly running to the morgue. Her husband, Jewel, had been working as an operator at BM Container Depot since 2017 but since the disaster, there has been no trace of him.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed profound shock and sorrow at the loss of lives and injuries.
In her condolence message, she prayed for eternal peace of the departed souls and conveyed deep sympathy to the bereaved family members. She also asked the authorities concerned to take prompt measures for treatment of the injured people. The PM asked her party leaders and activists, alongside the government, to come forward in controlling the fire quickly and taking measures to give all-out support to the affected people.
Mentioning there has been negligence from those who run the BM Container Depot, State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury said a three-member investigation committee has been formed by the Chittagong port authority and asked to submit a report to the ministry within the next three days.
"After receiving the probe report, we will discuss whether a high-level probe body, comprising the National Board of Revenue and the Shipping Ministry, can be formed.
"I personally think the inclusion of NBR in this committee is more important. We just handle the products here. The declaration of the products has to be given to the customs," he said.
Chowdhury added that there is an issue of taking different measures if the depot authorities declared hazardous material stored there.
"It needs to be checked whether such private container depots have the preparations that need to be taken, and whether they have the manpower needed. If so, why didn't they work? They definitely have a system in place, otherwise they wouldn't have been approved. Then why didn't those work? And now there are so many casualties in the fire incident. The investigation will shed light on these," he said.
"At the moment, it is not possible to say exactly what happened here, who is responsible. It can be said after receiving the inquiry report and then we will take action."
Of the dead 12 were identified as fireman Moniruzzaman, 32, Mominul Haque, Mohiuddin, Habibur Rahman, Rabiul Alam, Tofael Islam, Faruk Jomadder, Afzal Hossain, Md Sumon, Md Ibrahim, Harun-ur-Rashid, and Md Nayon.
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