At least 70 people have been killed and many more injured when a fire tore through crumbling apartment blocks in the historic Chawkbazar area of Old Dhaka. The fire broke out at 23:40 local time (17:40 GMT) on Wednesday, when many residents were sleeping.
It first started in a four storied building named Hazi Wahed Mansion, behind a mosque, where chemicals for deodorants and other highly inflammable material for household uses were being stored illegally at the ground floor. But it quickly engulfed four more nearby buildings as well.
Members of a bridal party and some guests at a restaurant are thought to be among the victims. Some residents were unable to escape as the main gates to a five-story building were chained up.
It is not yet clear what started the fire. Witnesses and police said gas explosions helped fuel the blaze. Traffic jams in the clogged narrow streets held up the rescue operation.
Bangladesh fire chief Ali Ahmed said told that 70 people were dead, but the toll may rise as dozens are feared trapped inside the wreckage. The search is still going on through the damaged buildings. “There was a traffic jam when the fire broke out. It spread so quickly that people could not escape,” the fire chief said. “Our people are using body bags to send them to the hospital morgue, this is a very difficult situation.”
Firefighters fought for more than five hours to put out the blaze, hindered by narrow streets and a lack of water sources.
Doctors at Dhaka Medical College Hospital said at least 55 people were injured, including 10 in a critical condition. Hundreds of people rushed to the hospital looking for missing relatives.
However, most of the bodies of the dead were charred beyond recognition.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed her shock over the tragedy and conveyed condolences to those affected, the Dhaka Tribune reports.