Fire guts ancient part of Bangladesh’s capital, killing 81

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Bangladeshi rescuers carry the body of a victim from one of the buildings razed by a fire in Dhaka on Thursday. (AFP / Munir Uz Zaman)
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Firefighters are seen at the scene of a devastating fire in Dhaka's old district of Chawkbazar on Thursday.(AFP / Munir Uz Zaman)
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Relatives of victims mourn near the site of a burnt warehouse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Thursday. (REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain)
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Firefighters work at the scene of a fire that broke out at a chemical warehouse in Dhaka, Bangladesh. (Reuters)
Updated 21 February 2019

Fire guts ancient part of Bangladesh’s capital, killing 81

  • 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, Bangladesh: A devastating fire raced through densely packed buildings in a centuries-old district in Bangladesh’s capital, killing at least 81 people, officials and witnesses said Thursday.
The fire in Dhaka’s Chawkbazar area was mostly under control after more than 10 hours of frantic firefighting efforts. About 50 people were injured, with some critically burned.
The district dating to the Mughal era 400 years ago is crammed with buildings separated by narrow alleys, with residences commonly above shops, restaurants or warehouses on the ground floors. Denisens of the Muslim-majority nation throng to Chawkbazar each year for traditional goods to celebrate iftar, when the daily fast is broken during Ramadan.
“I was talking to a customer, suddenly he shouted at me, ‘Fire! Fire!’” said Javed Hossain, a survivor who came to assess the damage to his grocery store Thursday afternoon. “I said ‘Oh, Allah,’ in a fraction of a second the fire caught my shop.”
Hossain’s brother took his hand and they leaped onto the street before the shop was engulfed in flames.
Outside the gutted store, the road was strewn with charred vehicles, pieces of still-burning metal and plastics and hundreds of cans of body deodorant.
The blaze started late Wednesday night in one building and quickly spread to others, fire department Director General Brig. Gen. Ali Ahmed said.
Many of the victims were trapped inside the buildings, said Mahfuz Riben, a control room official for 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 The Associated Press.
Another control room official, Russel Shikder, said 81 bodies had been recovered.

The fire services director, Maj. AKM Shakil Newaz, said many were taken to Dhaka Medical College Hospital. Ambulances were arriving carrying bodies, and relatives were mourning in front of the morgue.
First responders were delayed in reaching the site in part because nearby roads were closed for national holiday commemorations on Thursday. Just after midnight as the fire blazed, Bangladesh’s prime minister and president laid wreaths at a monument less than a mile (1.3 kilometers) away to commemorate protesters who died in a 1952 demonstration for the right to speak Bengali, the local language.
Fire officials said the road closures worsened traffic, slowing down some of the fire trucks rushing to the site.
Most buildings in Chawkbazar are used both for residential and commercial purposes despite warnings of the potential for high fatalities from fires after one killed at least 123 people in 2010. Authorities had promised to bring the buildings under regulations and remove chemical warehouses from the residential buildings.
A government eviction drive in Chawkbazar and other areas of Old Dhaka was met with protests last May right before Eid, the beginning of Ramadan, by business owners and residents.
Dr. Md. Manjur Morshed, an assistant professor of urban planning at Khulna University of Engineering and Technology in Khulna, said government regulations are routinely flouted in Chawkbazar.
“This is a historic area with a distinct culture,” he said. “They are not really abiding by the government’s rules.”
Such tragedies are shockingly common in Bangladesh, where fires, floods, ferry sinkings and other disasters regularly claim dozens of lives or more.
In 2012, a fire raced through a garment factory on the outskirts of Dhaka, killing at least 112 people trapped behind its locked gates. Less than six months later, another building housing garment factories collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people.
The death toll from the latest fire could still rise because some of the injured people were in critical condition, said Samanta Lal Sen, head of a burn unit in 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 vehicles that were stuck in traffic in front of the destroyed buildings.
Some reports suggested many of the fatalities were pedestrians, shoppers or diners who died quickly as several gas cylinders exploded, and the fire engulfed nearby buildings very quickly.


Bomb ‘intended to kill police’ detonates on Northern Ireland border

Updated 13 min 35 sec ago

Bomb ‘intended to kill police’ detonates on Northern Ireland border

LONDON: An explosive device described as an attempted trap for security forces detonated in a village on the Northern Ireland border on Monday, but failed to injure anyone.
Police and bomb disposal experts had been working in the area of Newtownbutler over the weekend since receiving an initial report about a suspect device on Saturday.
“I am of the firm belief this was a deliberate attempt to lure police and ATO (Anti-Terrorism Officer) colleagues into the area to murder them,” Stephen Martin from the Police Service of Northern Ireland said in a statement.
Martin later told reporters that two Irish republican dissident groups, the New IRA and the Continuity IRA, “would be a very good starting point for the investigation.”
He added: “It’s fair to say their level of activity has increased this year.”
Concerns have grown that the possible return of a hard border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit could increase security tensions in the once war-torn province.
Martin said violent attacks had grown in recent months, calling on politicians to take action to heal enduring divisions in society.
“Terrorism of this nature is a societal problem,” he said. “We shouldn’t take our peace for granted.”
Three decades of conflict known as “the Troubles,” in which more than 3,500 people were killed, largely ended in Northern Ireland with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Violent incidents have continued, however.
In April, a journalist was shot dead by Irish republican dissidents during rioting in Londonderry.
“I strongly condemn the cowardly actions of those responsible for this bomb attack, which could have had devastating consequences,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said in a statement.
“There is never any justification to use violence to achieve political aims,” he said.