“We have written to all the building owners on this street, including this one, at least five to six times, asking them to take precautions for fire safety. But no one ever complied.”
Fire Service Director Major Shakil Newaz
At least 19 people were killed and around 100 others injured yesterday as a deadly fire tore through 22-storey FR Tower in the capital's Banani area.
The death toll may rise, fear officials saying the search operation would continue till today morning.
Brig Gen Sazzad Hossain, director general of the Fire Service and Civil Defence, said they would continue the search operation in the building till 10:00am today and then hand it over to police.
The blaze was doused around 7:00pm after a six-hour hectic effort. Firefighters were yet to know the cause of the fire that erupted on the 6th floor. It spread quickly to other floors of the building that houses a food court and dozens of offices.
The incident took place a little over a month after a fire killed at least 70 people in Old Dhaka's Chawkbazar area.
At a press briefing at 9:15pm yesterday, the fire service DG said the building did not have adequate fire safety equipment.
“There were only a few equipment, and that too were unusable,” he said.
The fire broke out around 12:50pm, trapping several hundred people inside the building. Many of them screamed for help, waving hands and cloths on different floors as hundreds of onlookers crowded the adjacent Kemal Ataturk Avenue.
Scores were spotted on ledges of the building, desperately trying to climb down to safety. A few others grabbed ropes lowered by rescue helicopters, which pulled them out of the blaze. Crowds below cheered and applauded every time someone was rescued.
One of The Daily Star correspondents saw at least six people fall to their death while trying to escape the blaze.
The helicopters sprayed water on the building while firefighters used ladders to climb up different floors. They smashed windows to create escape routes and rescued people in groups.
More than four hours after the blaze, people were still seen trapped on the 13th and 14th floors, waving for help amid clouds of black smoke.
A total of 22 firefighting units, backed by the army, the navy and the air force personnel, struggled to tame the blaze.
The fire was brought under control around 4:45pm and doused at 7:00pm, said Rasel Shikder, a duty officer at the headquarters of the Fire Service and Civil Defence.
According to data provided by Fire Service and Civil Defence's media centre at 8:30pm, 19 people, including a Sri Lankan national, were killed and 70 others suffered injuries. At least 73 people were rescued while six firefighters were injured in the operation.
Eleven of the dead were identified as Rumki Akhter, 30; Masudur Rahman, 32; Nirosh Vignarajah, 30; Abdullah Al Faroque, 32; Mamun, 32; Monir 50; Amir Hossain Rabbi, 29; Sheikh Jabin Tasnim Bristi, 27; Anjir Abir Siddiqui, 26; Fazle Rabbi, 27; and Monjurul Hasan, 45.
The identity of the others could not be known.
Nirosh, a Sri Lankan national, reportedly fell to his death while trying to escape the blaze. He was declared dead after he was brought to Kurmitola General Hospital, said Brig Gen Quazi Rashid-Un-Nabi, director of the hospital.
Of those rescued from the building, seven were admitted to Kurmitola Hospital, 10 to the United Hospital and three to Dhaka Medical College Hospital. The rest were released after primary treatment.
Many of them had respiratory problems as they inhaled smoke. The others suffered wounds while trying to escape.
President Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed profound shock at the loss of lives and property in the devastating fire.
Narrating his three-hour-ordeal on the 12th floor, Badsha Faisal, one of the survivors, said, “My father advised me not to jump from the building and said I should rather take shelter on the rooftop.
“I tried to go up but failed due to thick smoke. I then returned to the 12th floor.”
“We broke the glass walls and waved cloths for help. At one stage, we thought we would die,” mentioned Faisal, an executive manager of an IT firm.
He said his three-hour ordeal came to an end when firefighters rescued him and five others around 3:30pm.
“It was like I got a new life,” he added.
As black smoke engulfed the building, Ishtiaq Mahmud, an official of the Empire Group, attempted to get down from his office on the 10th floor but failed due to excessive heat.
Later, he along with four others took shelter at a toilet on the 13th floor with the hope of being rescued.
“We drank tap water and soaked our bodies with water to get relief from the scorching heat …We waved pieces of clothes to get noticed by the rescuers,” he said.
“It was like a countdown to death,” he said, adding that firefighters rescued them around 3:45pm.
FIRE SERVICE DG'S BRIEFING
Sazzad said the eighth, ninth and 10th floors were badly damaged as electronics, carpet and vinyl boards used inside the building allowed the fire to spread quickly.
The victims were either suffocated inside the building or died in their attempts to escape the fire, falling from the upper floors of the high-rise.
In reply to a query, he said, “We cannot say anything about the cause or source of the fire until the investigation is completed.”
A five-member body was formed to investigate the incident, added the DG.
Asked whether there was any negligence in the rescue operation, fire service Deputy Director Dilip Kumar Ghosh said they responded quickly to an emergency call and reached the spot within 15 minutes.
“We worked hard and managed to limit the fire within three floors of the building and did not let it spread to adjacent buildings,” he added.