Bangladesh battles to extinguish container depot blaze that killed 41

DHAKA, June 6 (Reuters) – Bangladeshi firefighters battled for a third day on Monday to douse a massive blaze that killed 41 people at a container depot in an incident that highlights the poor safety record of the South Asian nation.

Drone footage showed thick columns of smoke and rows of burning containers as Saturday’s blaze lingered after a huge explosion and explosions of shipping containers in Sitakunda, 40 km (25 miles) from the port city of Chittagong, in the southeast of the country. Read more

The blaze was largely contained but not entirely extinguished as nearby chemical-laden containers pose a life-threatening explosion hazard, firefighters said.

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“Our firefighters are working hard, but due to the presence of chemicals, it is too risky to work near them,” said Anisur Rahman, the port city’s fire chief.

Similar explosions, some of which shattered the windows of buildings in the neighborhood, have already complicated the task of firefighters.

Troops also joined efforts to prevent the spread of chemicals in nearby canals and along the Bay of Bengal coast, officials said.

Authorities revised the death toll to 41 from 49, with more than 200 injured. The tally included at least nine dead firefighters, while 10 police officers were among 50 injured rescue workers, said city police chief Alauddin Talukder.

More deaths are feared, however, as some of the injured are in critical condition, said Chittagong doctor Mohammed Elias Hossain.

The cause of the fire was not immediately clear. But fire officials suspect it may have originated in a container of hydrogen peroxide before spreading rapidly.

“Almost all containers with exportable and imported goods were set on fire,” said Ruhul Amin Sikder, secretary of industry body Bangladesh Inland Container Depots Association (BICDA).

At the depot were about 800 containers filled with exportable items, about 500 with imported items and about 3,000 empty, Sikder added, citing officials at the shipping facility, BM Container Depot.

“About 85% of total exportable goods were ready-to-wear garments,” he said.

The private transport facility promised compensation of 1 million taka ($11,000) to the family of each worker killed in the fire.

Bangladesh has become the world’s second-largest garment exporter in recent decades, but its infrastructure and focus on industrial security are still nascent, the International Labor Organization said this year.

Lax regulations and poor enforcement have been blamed for conflagrations in recent years that have claimed hundreds of lives.

In 2020, three people were killed after an oil tank exploded at a container depot in the Patenga area of ​​Chittagong, while 54 died last July in a blaze at a food processing plant in Chittagong. outside the capital, Dhaka.

In 2019, 70 people were killed in a fire that engulfed several buildings in a century-old district of the capital.

($1 = 91.5000 taka)

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Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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