DHAKA: A huge fire in a Dhaka office block has killed at least 17 people, an official said Thursday, with desperate workers leaping to their deaths in the latest major inferno to hit the Bangladeshi capital.
"The death toll has risen to 17," Khurshid Alam, a fire service officer, told AFP, adding the toll may continue to rise as rescue crews search the torched building.
People were seen screaming for help from windows, while some lowered themselves down the side of the building. Media reports said at least six people had been seen leaping from flaming windows.
A military spokesman, Abdullah Ibne Zaid, said the body of a Sri Lankan man was brought to the army’s Kurmitola Hospital and another 45 people were being treated there.
Helicopters dropped water on the blaze as flames and thick black smoke poured out of the windows.
Scores of firefighters were backed by navy and air force specialists, authorities said.
Hundreds of panicked onlookers crowded the streets in the upmarket Banani commercial district.
Shoikot Rahman ran to safety after hearing colleagues raise the alarm, narrowly escaping the smoke and flames engulfing the building.
“When I heard a fire broke out in the building, I quickly rushed out of the building,” he told AFP.
“Many of my colleagues are still trapped in the office.”
There was no official word on how many people were trapped inside.
Fire disasters regularly hit Bangladesh’s major cities where safety standards are notoriously lax.
A massive blaze in Dhaka’s old quarter on February 21 killed at least 70 people and injured 50 others.
Fire service officials said chemicals illegally stored in an apartment building exploded and set alight five buildings and nearby streets. That blaze took more than 12 hours to control.
A June 2010 fire in the nearby neighborhood of Nimtoli, one of the most densely populated districts of the capital, killed 123 people.
In November 2012, a fire swept through a nine-story garment factory near Dhaka killing 111 workers. An investigation found it was caused by sabotage and that managers at the plant had prevented victims from escaping.
Experts said inspections on buildings in the city frequently found fire stairs blocked with stored goods and exit doors locked.
Authorities are still carrying out a drive to close down illegal chemical stores and warehouses in apartment buildings, launched after the disaster in the old city.