August 3, 2021

In Bangladesh, more than fifty dead in massive factory fire

The flames are not yet contained and the death toll continues to swell. On Friday July 9, the Bangladesh authorities announced that at least 52 people died and around 30 others were injured in a massive fire, which devastated a factory near Dhaka, the country’s capital.

Police and witnesses reported that the fire started Thursday, July 8 at around 5 p.m. (1 p.m. KST) at the Hashem Foods factory, which made sweets, noodles and fruit juices, among other things. Many workers had to jump out of the windows to escape the blaze.

The total number of people who were in the six-story building in Rupganj, an industrial town near Dhaka, was still unknown on Friday. Families were awaiting news of their loved ones near the building, which was still engulfed in flames.

Police initially said three people were killed. But this toll continued to increase on Friday afternoon, when firefighters were able to reach the highest floors: rescuers then found corpses in the building.

Highly flammable chemicals

The burned bodies were taken to morgues by ambulances, under the horrified gaze and cries of witnesses. The police had to forcibly disperse hundreds of people blocking adjacent streets. At least 30 people were injured, some of whom threw themselves from the windows on the upper floors as the flames progressed rapidly, police inspector Sheikh Kabirul Islam said.

The firefighters rescued twenty-five people on the roof of the building. “Once the fire is contained, we will launch an operation to search for survivors inside”firefighter spokesperson Debashish Bardhan said. Dinu Moni Sharma, the Dhaka fire chief, said the fire spread quickly due to the presence of highly flammable chemicals and plastics in the factory.

Mohammad Saiful, a worker who escaped the flames, said the building housed dozens of workers. “On the third floor, the access doors to the stairs were closed. Colleagues say there were forty-eight people inside. I don’t know what happened to them ”, he said. Mamun, another worker, said he ran for shelter on the roof with thirteen other people after the fire broke out on the ground floor and filled the building with thick black smoke. “The firefighters made us descend with a rope”, he said.

On the morning of the Hashem Foods factory fire on Friday July 9, the flames were still not contained.

The trauma of Rana Plaza

Building fires and collapses are common in Bangladesh, a poor country in South Asia, due to non-compliance with safety measures and standards. In February 2019, at least seventy people had died in a massive fire that ravaged apartment buildings in Dhaka, where chemicals were illegally stored.

In April 2013, the Rana Plaza textile workshop collapsed like a house of cards, killing at least 1,138 workers. After this tragedy which had aroused a worldwide stir, the authorities had imposed stricter safety rules in the textile industry, which is very important in the country. While these factories have largely complied with the new rules, many other industries have little compliance with safety standards.

Read the report: Bangladesh: the ghosts of Rana Plaza

Le Monde with AFP and AP