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Bangladesh: at least 49 dead in a gigantic explosion in a container depot


49 people were killed and 300 people injured in a fire-triggered chemical explosion at a container depot in Sitakunda, Bangladesh, officials said on Sunday. A worsening of the balance sheet was to be feared, some injured being in critical condition.

At least 49 people were killed and more than 300 injured in a massive chemical explosion, triggered by a fire, at a container depot in Sitakunda, Bangladesh, officials said on Sunday. Volunteer rescuers, sometimes wearing only flip-flops, were extracting corpses from the charred, debris-strewn dump, and claimed there were still some left inside.

Several people still missing

The fire broke out on Saturday around 9:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m. GMT) in a private warehouse housing some 4,000 containers in Sitakunda, about 40 kilometers from the major port of Chittagong in the south-east of the country. Hundreds of firefighters rushed to the scene to extinguish it but, an hour after the outbreak of the disaster, several containers of chemical products exploded, said the fire services.

“More than 300 people are injured,” Elias Chowdhury, the region’s main health official, told AFP. According to him, several people are still missing, including journalists who were covering the fire live. “The death toll will rise as the rescue operations are not yet complete,” he warned.

Seven firefighters died

“There are still bodies in the places affected by the fire. I saw eight or ten corpses,” a rescue worker told the media. At least seven firefighters died and four are missing, said Reazul Karim, a fire department official.

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The gigantic 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.

The explosion sent fireballs

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

The deposit contained hydrogen peroxide, a chemical with multiple industrial uses, Fire Chief Brigadier General Main Uddin told reporters. “We have still not been able to bring the fire under control due to the existence of this chemical,” he added.

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250 army soldiers sent

The army announced the dispatch of 250 soldiers 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 origin of the fire. Mominur Rahman, the chief administrator of the Chittagong district, announced the opening of an investigation. He said the depot also contained clothes worth millions of dollars that were to be exported to Western countries. Around 90% of Bangladesh’s approximately $100 billion in annual trade passes through Chittagong.

This major port has been experiencing a resurgence of activity since the end of last year thanks to the global economic recovery from the pandemic.

Fires are common in Bangladesh

Fires are frequent in Bangladesh, where safety standards are poorly respected. In July 2021, 54 people died in a fire at a gigantic food processing plant outside the capital, Dhaka.

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

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