Dhaka fire: 19 dead and workers seen ‘jumping from windows’ as blaze rips through 22-storey skyscraper in Bangladesh

Fire service says situation is ‘under control’ but rescue operation continues

Adam Withnall
Asia Editor
Thursday 28 March 2019 10:44
Comments
Dhaka fire: Blaze rips through 19-story building in Bangladesh capital

At least 19 people have died and many others were trapped and injured after a major fire broke out in a high-rise building in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital.

Dramatic footage from the scene, where flames engulfed the ninth and tenth floors of a 22-storey building, showed people trying to climb down cables between air conditioning units. Local media reported that at least six people had tried to jump to escape the flames.

Police confirmed the rise in death toll and said 70 others had been injured. The fire broke out shortly after midday on Thursday in the FR Tower, an office building on a busy street in the capital’s Banani business district.

An intense operation to tackle the blaze lasted several hours and included at least 20 fire crews as well as the military, which supplied helicopters to dump water on the tower from one of the city’s lakes.

In the early evening, fire service deputy director Debashish Bardhan said “the situation is under control”, and that while the operation continued most of those trapped on the upper floors without an escape route had been rescued.

At the height of the blaze, witness Sajib Hasan said people were seen shouting for help from windows on the upper floors of the building. Thick plumes of smoke impaired the efforts of firefighters, but Mr Hasan said he watched at least a dozen people get rescued by hydraulic cranes.

A Facebook Live video taken by Roy Pinaki showed five people scaling down from windows while building materials fell around them. One person slipped from what appeared to be a rope that people were using to escape, bounced off utility wires and fell to the ground.

And a correspondent for The Daily Star, Bangladesh’s largest English-language newspaper, reported that at least six people had been seen trying to jump to safety. They were all reportedly rushed to hospital and their condition was unknown.

The 19 dead included one Sri Lankan citizen, Banani police chief Forman Ali told reporters at a media briefing.

Workers at Vivid Holidays, a tourism business based on the first floor, said all their employees were accounted for but “we don’t know what happened to the people who work on the upper floors”.

One woman at the scene told The Daily Star that her daughter, Aparajita Barua, works in an office on the 12th floor of the building.

“During our last contact, she told us there were huge fumes in the building and that she was finding it difficult to breathe. Now, we can’t reach her on the phone,” she said.

Bangladesh suffers frequently from major building fires, in part due to poor enforcement of regulations. Last month, a fire killed at least 81 people in the capital.

In 2012, a fire raced through a garment factory on the outskirts of Dhaka, killing at least 112 people trapped behind its locked gates. Less than six months later, another building containing garment factories collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people.

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