DHAKA: Dozens of people have been killed and hundreds were injured after a massive fire swept through a shipping container depot in southeastern Bangladesh, officials said on Sunday, as the government launched an investigation into the incident.
The fire broke out on Saturday evening at a container facility in Sitakunda, located about 40 kilometers from the port city of Chittagong. The initial blaze triggered multiple chemical explosions that were still spreading as of Sunday afternoon.
The death toll had reached 49 and hundreds more were injured, officials said, with the number of casualties still expected to rise as hundreds of firefighters struggled to bring the fire under control.
“The number of casualties is increasing every hour. Until this afternoon, 49 people died, including 10 firefighters. More than 200 people were injured in the fire incident,” Faruque Hossain Shikder, assistant director of Chittagong’s Fire Service and Civil Defense, told Arab News.
Mohammad Dulal Miah, a deputy director of Bangladesh’s Fire Service and Civil Defense Department, said that the depot stored about 5,000 containers and that the site was still covered in black smoke on Sunday.
“We have yet to put out the fire. It’s spreading from one container to another and causing explosions,” Miah told Arab News.
“The cause of the fire is yet to be determined. But the nature of the explosions suggests that there might be some mixture of chemicals stored in the containers.”
Members of the Bangladesh Army have also been called in to assist the firefighters, while Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury announced the launch of an investigation into the incident.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has instructed authorities to use helicopters to transport severely injured people for treatment in the capital, Dhaka.
Though Bangladesh has a prospering garment industry, it also has a history of industrial disasters, including factories catching fire with workers trapped inside. Monitoring groups have often blamed lax regulations and poor enforcement for those incidents.
The country’s worst industrial disaster took place in 2013, when the Rana Plaza garment factory located outside Dhaka collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people. Just last year, a huge blaze that engulfed a food and beverage factory outside the capital killed at least 52 people, many of whom were trapped inside by an illegally locked door.