By JULHAS ALAM
DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A massive fire at a container depot near a port city in southeastern Bangladesh killed at least 28 people and injured more than 100 others, officials and local media said Sunday, as firefighters struggled to get the blaze under control.
The fire at the BM Inland Container Depot, a Dutch-Bangladesh joint venture, broke out around midnight Saturday following explosions in a container full of chemicals. The cause of the fire could not be immediately determined. The depot is located in Chittagong, 216 kilometers (134 miles) southeast of the capital, Dhaka.
At least five firefighters were among the dead, according to Brig. Gen. Main Uddin, director general of the Bangladesh fire service and civil defense. Another 15 firefighters were being treated for burn injuries, he added.
Multiple rounds of explosions occurred after the initial blast as the fire continued to spread, Uddin said. Explosives experts from Bangladesh’s military have been called in to assist the firefighters. The explosions shattered the windows of nearby buildings and were felt as far as 4 kilometers away, officials and local media reports said.
Firefighters were still working to bring the fire under control on Sunday.
The death toll reached 28 by late morning on Sunday, according to Ekattor TV station, and the area’s civil surgeon said the number could still rise further. Many of the casualties happened at Chattogram Medical College Hospital, while the rest of the bodies were recovered from the site of the fire.
Many of the containers in the depot are believed to have held chemicals. The depot handles goods for export and import and is located about 20 kilometers from the country’s main Chittagong Seaport.
Bangladesh has a history of industrial disasters, including factories catching fire with workers trapped inside. Monitoring groups have blamed corruption and lax enforcement for deadly incidents over the years.
Global brands, which employ tens of thousands of low-paid workers in Bangladesh, have come under fire to improve factory conditions in recent years. In the country’s massive garment industry, which employs about 4 million people, safety conditions have improved significantly after massive reforms, but experts say accidents could still occur if other sectors do not make similar changes.
In 2012, about 117 workers died when they were trapped behind locked exits in a garment factory in Dhaka.
The country’s worst industrial disaster occurred the following year, when the Rana Plaza garment factory outside Dhaka collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people.
In 2019, a blaze ripped through a 400-year-old area cramped with apartments, shops and warehouses in the oldest part of Dhaka and killed at least 67 people. Another fire in Old Dhaka in a house illegally storing chemicals killed at least 123 people in 2010.
In 2021, a fire at a food and beverage factory outside Dhaka killed at least 52 people, many of whom were trapped inside by an illegally locked door.
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