Fire trap: Nimtoli fire kills in Dhaka, Bangladesh

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Monsoon, started in Bangladesh two days ago, brought a storm wind, crashed rickshaws’ engines and cries of despair. On Wednesday, 2nd June, a five stores building tumbled down in one of the urban districts, Tejgaon, claiming the lives of 25 people. Before the rescuers could retrieve all the bodies, the fire broke out in the centre of Old Dhaka, in Nimtoli.

Marriage salute

The fire blazed up at 8:45 pm. That evening the family of Mohammed Gulzar was holding a wedding party. Hundreds of wedding feasts were being boiled, fried, roasted at the kitchen on the first floor. Most probably, by the evening time the heat, coming from the burners, approached the next door chemical warehouse. Chemicals spill was accompanied by several motorcycles, fueled by gas, standing near by.

On the other hand, according to police statement, the blaze could have started when the transformer exploded after a rainstorm swept the city. Then only the fire reached chemical warehouse in the ground floor, and spread so quickly with such an unbearable temperature.
According to Abu Nayeem Mohammad Shahidullah, fire service and civil defence chief, there are several fire sources approximately: “The blast was caused by heated burners, spilled chemicals or tea stall near buy”.

Transformator blast spread out the fire in several directions in few minutes, burning down 8 residential buildings and 20 small shops, selling plastic goods mostly. So far, chemicals, uncountable electric wires and gas pipes, plastic goods made a local fire into great tragedy fir the country. One can hardly remember such a fire since last 20 years.

The puzzle city

Here, in the center of old city, the building are just growing into each other. Narrow streets, millions of wires, cunettes, tiny gates, leading to each house, 1-1,5 meters high. It is hard to find your way out of this mess even in daylight. One can hardly pretend how people were trying to escape, chased by the fire.

According to the doctors, people in the hospitals are suffering not only from skin burns, but from respiratory tracts burns. “Dashing around the rooms, trying to escape, people breathed in poisoned by chemicals gas”, – a Doctor from Dhaka Medical College says. Officials still cannot determine the chemicals’ specification.

The fire raged all night. This area space structure, as in the most parts of old city, narrow streets and passes, as well as shortage on water tanks, impeded fire services works. By the morning firemen stopped the fire. At sawn, the rescue operations started again, hindered by energy shortage and heavy rains.

Within a day the number of victims increased up to 117, 18 out of them are not identified. Several victims died at the hospitals. And 11 people are still in a missing list. There are more than 100 victims in critical state are treated in the city hospitals.

Family whirlpool

The fire not only broke hundred peoples’ lives. It cut off whole families as here traditionally people live together, the whole family or several families of one clan.

In the house where the wedding party was being held, 13 people were burned alive: parents, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles. Though, the young couple stayed alive. Just before the fire blast out, the bride went to the local beauty saloon to finish her marriage outlook. One hour later, abandoned husband and wife were looking at their abandoned home, vanishing in fire, and prayed for the survival of their dearest. Their cries were still heard from the burning house. All 13 bodies were drawn from the ashes in the morning.
The family of Shahana Begum was saved by a miracle, all 11 persons remained alive, though all relatives of Shahana died in the fire. “We heard the explosion and rushed to the street, we ran and ran, the fire was everywhere, we ran nowhere and for nothing, last I don’t remember,” – Shahana whispers through tears.

In the middle of site of fire a fireman in dirty gloves hugs a young boy who is about to faint away, into the ashes slush. The slush of lives cut short in a moment. This night he lost all his family of 11 people.

In accordance with Prime Minister’s promises, injured families will get compensation and required medical treatment as well as social assistance. The government allots 20 000 BDT for each victim burial. The special commission will start an investigation on the causes of the fire.

The burial started on Friday, after day prayer, at the central cemetery. Hundreds of graves are ready for the coffins. The prayer sounds for expired souls calmed down only by the evening, to burst out again in the morning of next day. This Saturday is declared as a mourning day.

Photo report from the spot:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/50874761@N06/

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