Air heaviest with reek of death
The air was heavy with the stench of death. The smell of burnt plastic, packaging papers, and other factory materials was still lingering.
Only a few discarded sandals and melted plastic were left in the ankle-deep water on the third floor of the six-storey factory building of Hashem Foods in Narayanganj yesterday.
The water accumulated there after firefighters doused the flames.
The area where the charred bodies of 48workers were recovered was being used for producing chocolates and lollipops. Piles of half-burnt packaging papers of "Milkystick" were still lying on the floor.
Suddenly a voice said, "Maybe that's a human bone."
It was really hard to say whether that was a bone or a piece of melted plastic.
The area where workers took shelter on Thursday evening to save themselves from the razing blaze is just about two yards away from the second staircase of the building. But an iron grill separated the staircase from the factory floor.
"All those who died on this floor would have saved their lives if the gates to the staircases were not locked. They could have reached the roof of the building," said a firefighter.
The building was designed to be used as a store of the factory. But the authorities used it as a production unit, he said.
Visiting the factory building yesterday, The Daily Star found that the fire virtually reduced the 34,000 square feet structure to rubble.
A sign on the wall of the factory building read -- "Central Store". But this newspaper found the structure to be more like a "cage" than a store where the authorities used to keep the workers locked at each floor.
"Each of the section was separated by iron grills. This was done so that employees couldn't steal the produce -- juice, vermicelli, chocolates and so on," said a worker of the factory, wishing not to be named.
These correspondents found locks on the first, third, and fourth floors.
On the ground floor, packaging materials were piled up beside machineries. Biscuits used to be produced on the first floor, soft drinks on the second, and lollipops, Nocilla (chocolate spread), and chocolates on the third floor. The fourth floor was used as a store and also for producing semai (vermicelli). Chanachur used to be made on the fifth floor.
All the floors were filled with plastic materials which intensified the fire, according to fire officials.
A team of Electronic Safety and Security Association of Bangladesh (Essab) visited the building yesterday. It was astonished to find that no minimal fire safety measures were in place.
Essab Vice President Mohammad Monzur Alam said, "All the basic safety rules have been violated here. There is no fire safety door, hydrants, and evacuation plan in place. It seems that the authorities did not follow any safety plan. There's a barrier on each of the floors. Each of the section is locked behind grills."
Parvez, who used to work on the second floor, shared his horrific experience with this newspaper.
"We were at work on Thursday evening when the fire broke out. As the fire spread to the ground floor, all started screaming. It was like hell. When we tried to exit the building using the first staircase, we saw fire there. Some of us were very lucky to be able to come out using the second staircase. Many got trapped inside and some later jumped off the building," said Parvez.
"On the third floor, the gate to the second exit was locked. The fire was razing all around within a very short time," he added.
Yesterday, there was no crowd around the factory building as police barred visitors from getting close to it. Only some journalists were allowed in.
Firefighters were still busy pouring water on piles of burnt packaging materials as smoke was billowing from those even 40 hours after the fire broke out.
The walls of the building turned black. From the first to the fifth floor, ashes were the only thing left there.
A portion of the fourth floor has collapsed on the third floor.
Security guard Nur Alam said, "Several hundred people used to come to the factory every day. Now the building stands like a skeleton. Everything has burnt into ashes. For whom will I provide security now?"
Meanwhile, the fire service last evening announced the end of their rescue operation.
"There are no more bodies inside. Moreover, there is no fire or smoke. There are different types of combustible materials in the building. So, if any fire originates again, we will come here and take necessary measures," said Debashish Bardhan, deputy director (operation and maintenance) of the Fire Service and Civil Defense.
He said the building did not have approval from the fire service. "We provide fire safety plan for factory buildings. There was no plan for it."
Nahid Murad, manager (accounts) of the factory, told The Daily Star that they instructed security personnel not to let any outsides in.