Gas leak behind mosque blast
Death toll from Friday's explosion in the Narayanganj mosque reached 20 last night with fire officials suspecting that the incident took place due to leak in a gas pipeline that runs beneath the mosque.
The leaking pipeline might have caused gas to accumulate inside the Pashchim Talla Baitus Salam Mosque, and a spark then probably led to the explosion, leaving at least 40 people severely burnt, the officials said.
It happened around 8:45pm at the end of Esha prayers on Friday night. The ground floor of the three-story mosque in Narayanganj Sadar was badly damaged. All the victims had got trapped on that floor. Besides, six air conditioners there were found melted, they said.
The injured, admitted to Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery in the capital, were not out of danger, said doctors, adding that the death toll could rise.
Worried relatives crowded the institution the entire day to see their loved ones.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has expressed profound shock and sorrow at the loss of lives and directed the authorities concerned to ensure the best treatment to the injured.
The authorities have, meanwhile, opened an investigation into the incident.
As fire fighters began removing debris from the mosque yesterday, they found a scene of devastation with shards of sliding glass doors and window panes, spilled out wires, burnt clothes and human flesh scattered on the ground.
"The mosque room was filled with gas. The gas was seeping out from different points even after the fire," Lt Col Zillur Rahman, director (operation and maintenance) of Fire Service and Civil Defence, told The Daily Star.
Based on primary findings, he said since the all the doors and rooms were kept closed for the ACs, the room got filled with gas. Any kind of spark can cause explosion in such rooms.
Asked whether there was any short circuit, Zillur Rahman, also the chief of a four-member committee formed by the fire service to probe the incident, said they found an electric switchboard burnt. "But it's not possible to say anything clearly now."
Replying to another query, he said, "Had any AC exploded, there would have been a black spot on the wall. But we didn't see any such black spots. It seems the plastic body of the ACs was burnt in fire," he said.
"We need a couple of days more to ascertain the actual reason for the fire," he added.
Echoing a similar view, Rahmatullah Chowdhury, in-charge of Bomb Disposal Unit of the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC), said the entire ground floor turned into a "gas chamber" due to accumulation of gas leaked from the gas line.
The gas could not leave as the windows were closed for the ACs, he said after visiting the spot. He also said methane gas from nearby drains had gathered there.
Rahmatullah said a power outage had occurred before the incident and a spark on a switchboard after electricity was restored caused the explosion.
Md Al-Amin, religion affairs secretary of the mosque committee, said the second floor was under construction. The building had two electricity connections for uninterrupted power supply.
As power went out on Friday night, muezzin Delowar Hossain switched on the second line. As he switched on the first one after the previous connection was restored suddenly, there was a spark on the switch board and then a loud bang, Al-Amin said.
Aminul Islam, a job-seeker who has been living in a room on the second floor for nearly a month, said he rushed down hearing a bang around 8:45pm.
"I saw people burning inside the room. They were trying to get out but many of them collapsed," he said.
He said he got injured while helping some victims come out. At that time, some jumped in water accumulated on the road outside the mosque.
Fire officials said a fire engine rushed to the spot on information and brought the fire under control within 10 minutes.
Contacted, Mofizul Islam, deputy manager of Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company Limited in Narayanganj, said, "All our connections are legal. If there is any line under the mosque, then it was put there before there was any mosque. If anyone builds anything on our supply lines, it is illegal. The mosque authorities never informed us anything about it."
Apart from the fire service, the district administration and Titas formed separate committees to investigate the incident.
A five-member probe body was formed with district magistrate Khadiza Tahera Boby as chief. It has been asked to submit a report within five working days, said Narayanganj Deputy Commissioner Jasim Uddin.
Meanwhile, the DC office announced that it would give Tk 20,000 for burial of each victim and Tk 10,000 for each survivor's treatment.
Titas also formed a five-member probe body headed by Abdul Wahab Talukder, general manager (planning). It was asked to submit its report within five working days.
Dhaka Power Distribution Company was also investigating.
CASE FILED FOR NEGLIGENCE
Police have already filed a case with Fatullah Police Station for negligence over the incident.
Mohammad Zaidul Alam, superintendent of police in Narayanganj, however, said the incident still seemed to be an accident.
Police are now working closely with the probe bodies and they will take action if any incident of negligence is found against anyone, he said.
Twenty people died of their injuries as of filing the report at 9:00pm last night.
Thirteen of the deceased have been identified as Rashed (30), Rifat (18), Mostafa Kamal (34), Zubair (18), Sabbir (21), Kuddus Bepari (72), Delwar Hossain (48), Zunayed (17), Humayun Kabir (70), Ibrahim (43), Jamal (40), Joynal (38) and Mainuddin (12).
The rest are not out of danger, said Dr Samanta Lal Sen, coordinator of the burn unit.