An explosion kills 49 people a month in Bangladesh

At least 49 people have been killed and more than 300 injured in a massive chemical blast at a container depot in Sitakunda, Bangladesh, officials said on Sunday.

A worsening of the toll was feared, with some injured being in critical condition. Volunteer rescuers, sometimes wearing only flip-flops, were extracting corpses from the charred and littered debris depot, and said there was still some left inside.

The fire broke out on Saturday at around 9.30pm (5.30pm in Switzerland) in a private warehouse with some 4,000 containers in Sitakunda, about 40 kilometers from the main port of Chittagong in the south-east of the country.

Hundreds of firefighters rushed to the scene to put it out, but an hour after the fire broke out, several containers of chemicals exploded, fire services said.

Many are still missing

“More than 300 people have been injured,” Elias Chowdhury, the region’s chief health official, told AFP. He said several people were still missing, including journalists covering the fire live. “The death toll will rise as rescue operations are not yet complete,” he said.

“There are still bodies in the areas affected by the fire.” I saw eight or ten bodies, ”a paramedic told the media. At least seven firefighters were killed and four were reported missing, said Reazul Karim, a fire chief.

The massive explosion shook buildings several kilometers away, witnesses said. “A cylinder flew about half a kilometer from the scene of the fire to land in our small pond,” said Mohgammad Ali, a 60-year-old grocer.

“Fireballs in the sky”

“The blast sent fireballs into the sky. Balls of fire falling like rain. We were so scared that we immediately fled, ”he added. “The explosion projected me about ten meters from where I was. My hands and legs are burned, ”said Tofael Ahmed, a trucker who was in the warehouse.

The depot contained hydrogen peroxide, a multi-purpose chemical, Brigadier General Main Uddin, a fire chief, told reporters. “We are still unable to control the fire because of this chemical,” he added.

The military said 250 troops had been dispatched to help with relief operations, including stacking sandbags to prevent chemicals from spilling into the sea. The depot employed about 600 people, said its director, Mujibur Rahman, who said he did not know the source of the fire.

The depot contained clothing for export

Mominur Rahman, the chief administrator of Chittagong District, announced the opening of an investigation. He said the depot also contained millions of dollars worth of clothing to be exported to Western countries.

About 90% of Bangladesh’s estimated $ 100 billion in annual trade passes through Chittagong. This major port has seen a resurgence of activity since the end of last year thanks to the global economic recovery after the pandemic.

Fires are common in Bangladesh, where safety standards are poorly met. In July 2021, 54 people were killed in a fire at a huge food processing plant outside the capital, Dhaka.

And in February 2020, 70 people were killed in another fire that ravaged several apartment buildings in Dhaka.

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