News Desk: Efforts were on to douse the massive fire even on Sunday night, 24 hours after it started at BM Container Depot in Chattogram’s Sitakunda and killed at least 49 people, including nine firefighters, and more than 500 others injured.
While it’s highly likely that the death toll will climb, Chittagong Medical College Hospital (CMCH) and several other hospitals and clinic in the port city were overwhelmed since Saturday night while treating the injured, including depot workers, local residents and members of the police and Fire Service.
Authorities are yet to determine the cause of the fire, which broke out around 9:25pm Saturday and was further fuelled by the chemicals which was meant to be exported stored in the depot. Different government agencies have formed at least four committees to investigate the incident.
Until 9pm Sunday, at least 25 firefighting units from different fire houses across Chattogram were working together with the army, police and locals to douse the flames and smokes and bring the situation under total control.
“There are still small fires all over the scene. We have lost several firefighters while some others were injured. But we are working tirelessly to put out this fire,” Fire Service and Civil Defence Director General Brig Gen Md Main Uddin told reporters.
Chattogram District’s Civil Surgeon Dr Mohammad Ilyas Chowdhury had confirmed that the death toll was 49 until Sunday evening.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina mourned the deaths in the container depot fire. She also asked the authorities concerned to take prompt measures to treat the injured and give all out support to the affected people.
Hospitals overwhelmed, doctors struggling
The majority of the 200 injured people were rushed at first to CMCH with different levels of burns and various types of wounds. Most of them were admitted there.
Officials and witnesses said the hospital’s doctors were struggling after being deluged by such high number of injured people.
The rest of the injured were receiving treatment at various hospitals and clinics across the city and Sitakunda while some were released after first aid.
At least 14 injured, including two firefighters, were also transferred to Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery (SHNIBPS) in Dhaka. Three of them were admitted to the intensive care unit.
An expert team from SHNIBPS led by its Chief Coordinator Dr Samanta Lal Sen will also go to Chattogram on Monday to help CMCH doctors treat the victims with burn injuries.
At CMCH, amid the cries of pain from the injured, many people were seen searching for their loved ones. Many were found in tears after finding their relatives among the injured people while others who were not so lucky were asked to check the morgue.
CMCH Director Brig Gen Md Shamim Ahsan told reporters that they were doing everything they can to treat the wounded. “We have cancelled the leaves of all doctors and nurses and rushed them to the hospital. At the same time, we have brought it doctors from the upazila health complexes surrounding the city.”
“The doctors are struggling,” he agreed. “There is not enough medicine to treat so many patients. Therefore, they are requesting everyone from all walks of life to extend a helping hand with medicines, saline and painkillers urgently.
“Many of the injured need blood. Those interested in donating blood are requested to come to the hospital as soon as they can,” he pleaded.
Meanwhile, police have been instructed to ensure DNA tests and autopsies of all the deceased. The bodies will be handed over only their identities after confirmed, officials said.
The majority of the 200 injured people were rushed at first to CMCH with different levels of burns and various types of wounds.
Hydrogen peroxide spread the fire
At the container depot at Sitakunda, hundreds of drums of hydrogen peroxide were kept for export. After the chemical drums started exploding, the flames spread in moments and engulfed firefighters, volunteers and journalists in an inferno, hurtling people and debris through the air, and turning the night sky a blazing orange.
Buildings located several kilometres away were rattled with the force of the blasts. Sporadic explosions were heard even on Sunday morning.
On Sunday, when they visited, journalist and volunteers found blue exploded hydrogen peroxide drums scattered around the depot.
Due to this chemical, the fire spread further and air was left polluted, delaying the firefighters’ march towards the centre of the fire by several hours, said Fire Service chief Main Uddin.
“We don’t know yet how many containers were carrying the chemical drums. That’s why it’s taking more time and effort to put out the fires,” he added.
Mujibur Rahman Al Raji, the director of BM Container Depot which has around 600 workers, told the media that the cause of the initial fire was still unknown. “We think the fire spread quickly due to the presence of chemicals and garments products.”
He also claimed that products worth thousands of crore of taka were lost in the fire. “When the fire started, there were over 100 workers at the depot. We are bearing the medical expenses of all the injured.”
The Fire Service chief said it was not the right time to determine the financial loss. “The probe committee will investigate and we will share all the details after getting their report.”
Army working to stop chemical pollution
A team of 250 troopers of Bangladesh Army has been working with the Fire Service to douse the flames and assist in rescue operations at the depot since Saturday night.
Among them, the teams of army engineers and security personnel closed off the surrounding drains and canals and stopped the chemicals from falling into the sea on Sunday.
The military police team were assisting the police in controlling the scene while the medical team has been providing medical services to the injured, according to the Inter Services Public Relation Directorate.
Army ambulances and helicopters were taking the injured to CMCH and the Combined Military Hospital in Chattogram. They were also helping in moving the critically wounded ones to Dhaka.
Meanwhile, the government has allocated Tk 1 crore for the victims of the devastating fire, report BSS.
An official release from the Disaster Management and Relief Ministry said Tk 1 crore in cash and 1,000 packets of dry and other food items have been allotted as humanitarian assistance for the victims of the Sitakunda fire.
The Labour and Employment Ministry also said in another media statement that Tk 2 lakh will be given to the families of the workers killed in the blast and Tk 50,000 will be given to the injured from the funds of Bangladesh Labour Welfare Foundation.