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Chawkbazar Fire: Death toll 70, authorities call off rescue operation

Firefighters battled through the night to control the blaze

Thursday February 21, 2019 5:11 PM, Agencies

Chokbazar Fire

[The fire is believed to have started when a fuel cylinder stored in a car exploded. (Photo: The Daily Star)]

Dhaka: As many as 70 people have been killed in a fire that tore through apartments, that are also being used to store flammable chemicals, in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, according to officials.

The blaze began at around 10:30 pm local time on Wednesday in Chawkbazar, described by CNN as a historic district “with sprawling narrow streets and densely-packed buildings”.

The fire is believed to have started when a fuel cylinder stored in a car exploded. Flames then quickly spread to a nearby restaurant and five buildings, police said.

According to the latest development into the incident, authorities have called off rescue operation after dousing the fire. Dhaka South City Corporation Mayor Sayeed Khokon called off rescue operation officially around 12:10 pm after nearly 14 hours of efforts.

Earlier, a traffic jam in the street outside the buildings blocked many exits, trapping people inside. The apartments are also believed to have housed storage units filled with “chemicals, body sprays and plastic granules”, which further fueled the flames, The Guardian reports.

Firefighters battled through the night to control the blaze. This morning Bangladesh’s fire service chief Ali Ahmed said the fire had been extinguished, but warned that the death toll was likely to rise.

“The number of bodies may increase,” he said. “The search is still going on.”

The BBC reports that large building fires “are relatively common” in the densely populated cities of Bangladesh, “owing to lax safety regulations and poor conditions”.

Bangladesh-based website BDNews24 says that this week’s tragedy should serve as “another wake-up call” for the authorities, who have faced calls to remove chemical warehouses from Old Dhaka since a massive fire in the Nimtali district in 2010 claimed more than 100 lives.

Two years ago, Dhaka South City Corporation Mayor Mohammad Sayeed Khokon vowed the chemicals warehouses would be relocated from Old Dhaka, “but there has been little visible progress on the matter,” the site adds.

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