A devastating fire that swept through a garment factory in the Ashulia industrial belt near capital Dhaka on Saturday has left at least 110 people dead.
The worst ever factory blaze in Bangladesh broke out on the ground floor of the multi-storied Tazreen Fashions Limited around 7:30pm in Savar’s Nischintapur, officials said.
Ten fire-fighting units tamed the flames after over four hours of frantic efforts but what caused the fire remains unknown.
Workers who managed to escape the fire by jumping from windows alleged authorities prevented them leaving the factory after the fire alarm went off saying the alarm was not working properly, only to raise the death counts.
Evidence suggests the factory was not compliant and importers, including its major buyer Wal-Mart, were not satisfied with the factory’s working condition. In May, 2011, Wal-Mart in its evaluation ranked it under ‘Orange’ category.
The bdnews24.com reporter did not find any emergency or fire exit at the factory. BBC quoting a firefighter reported that the factory did not have any.
It was not immediately clear exactly how many were working at the factory when the factory had broken out and how many escaped the fire amid claims of many workers still missing. Unconfirmed reports say the number of workers on duty was between 500 and 4000.
On Saturday night, immediately after the fire started , rescuers confirmed recovering nine bodies of workers, seven of them women. All of them had reportedly jumped off the building. Hundreds of workers were still trapped inside the factory building.
Although the police and fire service officials had initially confirmed deaths of 112 people, Communications Minister Obaidul Quader said 109 people were confirmed dead.
The police official handing over the dead bodies to their relatives, Assistant Superintendent of Police Moshiuddoula, told bdnews24.com that he gave away 43 bodies to their families.
As many as 60 unclaimed bodies have been kept at Dhaka Medical College Hospital morgue, although it was earlier decided that Anjuman Mofidul Islam would be given custody of those.
Authorities have also decided to preserve DNA samples of the bodies remaining unclaimed by Monday morning, the time until when authorities will wait for their relatives to identify the bodies. The bodies will then be handed over to Anjuman Mofidul Islam for burial.
The police official confirmed deaths of 110 people.
The rescue operation was called off on Sunday noon. Fire Brigade and Civil Defence Deputy Director Abdul Matin said they had recovered 100 bodies from the building, many of them charred.
According to relevant people, this was the worst case of factory fire in the country. The area where the garment was situated, the Ashulia industrial belt, hosts nearly 3,000 out of around 4,500 apparel factories in Bangladesh.
The ministries of labour and home, administration, police and fire service authorities have launched separate investigations into the incident.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and BNP chief Khaleda Zia have expressed grief over the deaths. The government is going to announce national mourning over the massive deaths.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday also condoled the deaths.
Fire Service officials started rescue operations on the ninth floor in the morning after dousing the blaze, Dhaka range’s Additional Deputy Inspector General of police Mizanur Rahman said.
He said Army’s Ninth Infantry Division, police, RAB and Border Guard Bangladesh members took part in the rescue.
Meanwhile, relatives of the trapped workers thronged the factory area and spent a sleepless night there in the hope of getting their loved ones back alive. In the morning, rescuers started retrieving burnt bodies from inside the building and gathering them at the Nischintopur Government Primary School premises.
The district administration announced Tk 20,000 each for the families of the victims as funeral costs, Inspector Mokhlesur Rahman of the Industrial Police said.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) announced giving Tk 100,000 each to the families of the deceased.
The Ministry of Labour also announced giving Tk 10 million for the injured.
Earlier on Sunday morning, relatives of the trapped workers, who had gathered outside the factory, hurled brickbats at the police alleging delay in the rescue efforts. The police fired tear shells and charged batons to take control of the situation.
Mostly poor security measures are blamed for fatal garment fires in Bangladesh.
“We assume the fire may have been triggered by a short circuit,” Fire Service’s Director General Brig Gen Abu Nayeem Mohammad Shahidullah said and added that the matter can be confirmed after probe.
When asked about the delay in dousing the flames, he pointed to ‘lack of water’ in surrounding areas.
Communications Minister Obaidul Quader, Labour Minister Rajiuddin Ahmed Raju, State Minister for LGRD Jahangir Kabir Nanak and ruling Awami League Joint General Secretary Mahbub-ul Alam Hanif visited the spot on Sunday morning, hours after the fire was doused.
“It is tragic; there are rows upon rows of dead bodies… It cannot be described in words,” Quader told newsmen.
Later, BNP Acting Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and Vice Chairman Sadique Hossain Khoka visited the site.
“It is unfortunate that most of the factories (in Bangladesh) do not have sufficient fire-fighting systems which in turn cost the lives of the innocent workers,” Fakhrul said.
The BNP leader said they demanded the government give sufficient compensations to those harmed in the fire.
Bangladesh is the second largest exporter of readymade garments after China and clothes account for up to 80 percent of Bangladesh’s $24billion annual export.
In December 2010, at least 25 people were killed in fire in the same industrial area. On Feb 23, 2006 a fire in the KTS Textiles and Garments had claimed 54 lives in Chittagong
Fire extinguishers not used
According to the website of Tuba Group, which owns the factory, it has 13 other garment factories other than the one burnt. Around 1,500 people used to work at Tazreen Fashions.
Authorities said there were around 300 employees in the nine-storied factory to ensure fire safety. They comprised fire fighters, rescue workers and primary medics. However, there were no visible efforts on their part to extinguish the fire.
bdnews24.com correspondents saw eight fire-extinguishers placed on each floor from the first to the seventh.
The equipment were last tested on the fifth of this month and bore the authority’s signatures on them. The ‘open rings’ of two of the fire extinguishers found lying on the second and third floors were intact. There was evidence of using one of the extinguishers on the seventh floor.
According to the website, Mahmuda Akter Mita is its Chairman and Delowar Hossain the Managing Director.
The thread warehouse on the ground floor was found burned to ashes. Fire brigade officials assumed fire to have originated from there.
“Bodies of 69 have been recovered from the second floor, 21 from the third floor and 10 from the fourth floor,” fire brigade control room official Forhaduzzaman said.
Five probe committees
The Ministry of Labour has formed a seven-strong probe body headed by Joint Secretary Foyezur Rahman, asking it to report in three days.
A four-member committee was formed by the Home Ministry with Additional Secretary Mayen Uddin Khandker as its chief.
The administration has formed a seven-strong committee to investigate the incident and find out the perpetrators, Dhaka Divisional Commissioner A N Shamsuddin Al Azad said.
The Additional Divisional Commissioner has been made convenor of the panel which has representatives from the police, the Fire Service, BGMEA and workers’ organisations, he said.
The committee has been asked to submit their findings in three days, Azad said and added that the body will also recommend on ways to avoid such deadly disaster in future.
The police have formed a three-strong committee headed by Additional Deputy Inspector General of Police (Dhaka range) Mizanur Rahman, Superintendent of Police of Dhaka Habibur Rahman said.
Apart from them, the Fire Service has formed a five-strong probe committee headed by its Administration and Financial Affairs Director Abdus Salam.
Deputy Director Bhorot Chandra Biswas has been made the committee’s Member Secretary with Mirpur Training Complex’s Vice Principal Badiuzzaman, Deputy Assistant Director Masudur Rahman and Senior Station Officer (EPZ) Anowar Hossain as its members.
“We have been asked to file a report within seven days,” the committee’s chief told bdnews24.com by telephone.
Source: The Daily Star