An office numb with grief
Ten of the 26 people killed in Thursday's devastating fire in Banani used to work at Heritage Air Express on the 10th floor of the 22-storey FR Tower.
The survivors from the travel agency are reeling from shock and struggling to come to terms with the fact that they have lost their colleagues forever.
One of those who made it to safety is Anjon Kumar Sarkar, manager (central accounts) at the firm. He said he first came to know about the fire after a security guard on the floor screamed for help around 12:30pm.
Anjon immediately alerted his colleagues and told them to come out as quickly as possible.
But some of them were late to respond as they tried to gather their things first, recalled the man as he talked to The Daily Star yesterday.
Anjon along with dozens of others rushed through the stairs to go to the roof. He saw only three of his colleagues on the way.
“One of them was Rabbi who was holding a hand of one of our colleague Tanjela Moule. There was no electricity and smoke engulfed the stairs. By the time we reached the 12th floor, we lost Tanjela amid the rush of people,” he said.
“Hours later, Tanjela was found dead,” Anjon said, adding at least seven other employees of his office were also injured.
A freight forwarding company on the same floor, Scanwell Logistics Bangladesh Ltd, too lost five employees in the fire.
The deceased employees of Heritage Air Express are Senior sales Officers Ataur Rahman, 62, Monir Hossain Sardar, 52, and Nahidul Islam, 35; Accounts Manager Abdullah Al Mamun, 47; Visa-coordinator Mizanur Rahman, 30; Senior Tour Operator Maksudur Rahman Jemi, 32; Accounts Officer Rumki Akter, 30; Tour Operator Tanjela Moule, 25; Visa-coordinator Jebunnesa, 30; and Hajj and Umrah officer Abu Hena Mostafa Kamal, 60.
Nine of them, including three women, died on Thursday while critically burnt Mostafa Kamal lost the battle for his life at the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) yesterday morning. With his demise, death toll from the fire rose to 26.
Anjon said it took him nearly 10 minutes to reach the roof and there he found only four of his colleagues, including Managing Director Faizul Islam Hiru.
“I asked them about the others and they said they were also coming. We somehow jumped to the roof of adjacent the Ahmed Tower,” he said, adding that once going to the other side, they helped at least 60 to 70 people cross the roof but did not find anyone else from Heritage Air Express.
Anjon said as he got down, he saw a few policemen on the road. The fire fighters had not reached yet.
“As I looked up, I saw fire raging through floors and smoke engulfing others,” he said.
“Right before my eyes, three of our colleagues -- Monir, Maksud and Mamun -- fell to their death while trying to slide down cables,” Anjon said and broke down in tears.
He said there were around 30 employees in his office when the fire broke out.
In the 22-storey building, most of the floors were used as offices of companies like Aamra Networks Limited, EUR Service Ltd, Dird Group, Dentotal, and FR Properties Ltd (land owners office). Some other floors housed restaurants and cafes.
“Everything in our office has been razed to ashes,” said another official of Heritage Air Express.
Heavy smoke and ash created black layers on the furniture, computers and documents of the 10th and several other uppers floors, which remained outside the reach of flames, said firemen.
'EXIT TOO NARROW'
Tarun Kanti Sikder, a member of the committee formed by the home ministry to probe the fire incident, said the width of the highrise's fire exit was only 24 inches.
After inspecting the eight to 12th floors, members of two probe bodies by the home and the disaster management and relief ministry briefed the media in front of the building yesterday morning.
They said the fire mainly damaged the 8th, 9th and 10th floors. The other two floors had smoke in it, they said.
Faizur Rahman, additional secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, said they found some firefighting equipment on the affected floors but they were unused.
They would talk to those who worked at the eight to the 10th floor today to know the cause of the fire, he added.
Asked about the owner of the tower, Faizur said the developer company and the owner of FR Tower have been asked to appear at his ministry.