At least 49 people died and 450 were injured in a fire that caused a gigantic explosion of chemical products in a container depot in Sitakunda, Bangladesh, local authorities said today.
Several injured are in critical condition and witnesses reported that several bodies have not yet been recovered from the private warehouse, located 40 kilometers from the great port of Chittagong, in the southeast of the country.
The fire broke out on Saturday around 9:30 p.m. local time. Hundreds of firefighters were trying to put it out when, an hour after the incident was declared, several containers of chemical products exploded.
At least seven firefighters were killed and four are missing, said Reazul Karim, a fire-fighting services official.
The gigantic explosion shook buildings several kilometers away, according to witnesses.
“A cylinder flew about half a kilometer from the site of the fire to land in a small lagoon,” said Mohgammad Ali, a 60-year-old merchant, according to the GLM agency.
“The explosion sent fireballs skyward. Balls of fire that fell like rain. We were so scared that we had to flee immediately,” added the merchant.
«The explosion projected me a dozen meters from the place where I was. My hands and legs are burned,” said Tofael Ahmed, a truck driver who was at the depot.
Firefighters were able to control the fire after 25 hours of work, although black smoke continues to come out of different parts of the warehouse, said the deputy director of the fire service, Anisur Rahman.
“We found out very late from the warehouse managers that there were containers containing hydrogen peroxide. No one from the organization informed the first responders about the chemical,” Anisur lamented, adding, “Chemical fires of this type are very difficult to put out. We tried to put it out with foam and fog.”
Relatives have not been able to identify the bodies of 36 who died in the warehouse fire, according to Chattogram Deputy Commissioner Mominur Rahman.
Only 13 bodies have been identified so far and handed over to relatives, Mominur confirmed at a news conference at Chattogram Hospital, adding that DNA samples will be collected on Tuesday to determine the identity of the other 36 victims. Mominur has reported that, of the more than 450 people who were injured in the explosion, 163 are being treated in local hospitals.
The explosives inspector, Tofazal Husein, stated on Monday that the damaged warehouse did not have authorization to store chemical products.
“As far as I know, they (the container depot) don’t have it. It is the first time that we (the explosives control directorate) found out about it,” Tofazal stressed, according to the Europa Press agency.
Tofazal has explained that hydrogen peroxide, the chemical agent that many suspect fueled the fire, could not be behind the explosion.
In turn, the general manager of sales and marketing of BM Depot, Nazmul Ajtar Jan, assured that the warehouse has all the necessary authorizations to store chemical products.
“We have all the documentation. The chemicals were stored here separately for export,” he said.
Authorities have set up a three-member committee to investigate the cause of the fire and have requested a report within three days, Bangladesh Minister of State for Shipping Khaled Mahmud Chowdhury announced.
Rahman further claimed that the warehouse also contained clothes worth “millions of dollars” that were to be exported to Western countries.
About 90% of Bangladesh’s $100 billion annual trade passes through Chittagong.
This large port has recovered its activity since the end of last year, thanks to the global economic recovery after the pandemic.