Search for the loved ones
Putul Begum, from Dhaka's Madartek, boarded the MV Abhijan-10 on Thursday evening to go on holiday to her sister's home in Barguna along with eight family members.
Little did they know that this joyous journey would soon turn into a gruesome nightmare.
In the early hours of Friday, a heavy flame and screams of frenzied passengers shook the deck of the vessel. When Putul woke up, parts of her body were already burnt.
With their lives at stake, jumping into the water seemed to be the most obvious choice. She jumped into the Sugandha river. So did the others.
As she was recounting the horror at Barishal's Sher-e-Bangla Medical College Hospital yesterday evening, five of her family members were still missing.
She was travelling with her two children, husband, mother, two brothers, the wife of one of the brothers, and their child.
Speaking to The Daily Star, she said they were all sleeping on the first floor of the vessel.
"Suddenly I heard a scream and saw the massive flame. I jumped into the river and others did the same. Later, I was rescued and brought to the hospital," she said.
Her 65-year-old mother Monowara, sons Jibon, 12, and Emon, 5, sister-in-law Ruma, 20, and her five-year-old son Ahon were still untraced till filing of this report around 7:00pm.
Putul's husband Rashed was sent to Dhaka for better treatment.
The tragic fire at MV Abhijan-10 yesterday claimed at least 40 lives. Around a 100 sustained burn injuries.
Many others were still missing.
'JUMPED AND THEN WENT MISSING'
As the charred vessel floated near the banks of the Sugandha river in Jhalakathi, many relatives gathered there yesterday in search of their loved ones even as firefighters were conducting a rescue operation.
From the vessel, lingering smoke was still coming out with an acute burning smell. Scraps of clothes, bags and shoes were littered on the floors.
Harun Mia, from Barguna's Kumarkhali, tried in vain, but could not find his daughter Rimu, an undergrad student at a Dhaka college, and his 11-year-old grandson Mudassin.
Sitting by the river bank, Harun could not hold back his tears.
Rizia Begum, 65, a resident of Burirchar union, said, "My son Shahjahan (45) was a passenger of this launch. We talked at night, now I cannot find him. His mobile phone is also switched off."
Ali Akbar, 55, of Dhalua village, said his grandson Sujan, 32, worked in a garment factory in Dhaka. He called him from the launch to inform him that he was coming home.
"His cellphone has been switched off since the accident. God knows best [what happened]," he said.
Nasir Uddin of Bargun's Taltoli upazila said his mother, wife, two children and brother-in-law were returning home on the launch from Dhaka. "My wife Razia and daughter Nusrat are still missing," he told The Daily Star yesterday evening.
Ten-year-old Taifa and her father Bashir Uddin were coming back to their Barguna home after getting her grandfather Ali Shikder, a cancer patient, treated in Dhaka.
Ali Shikder jumped into the river to save his life while Taifa and her father were stuck in the launch. Taifa was burnt to death while her father was severely injured. Her grandfather Ali Sikder is still missing.
Rasel, a day labourer from Barguna's Dhalua, said he was on board with his wife, two children and mother-in-law. He found the body of his mother-in-law, but his wife and children were still missing.
Some survivors at the Sher-e-Bangla Medical College Hospital said they could not yet find their family members.
Ten-year-old Marzia said she was returning home in Betagi of Barguna, along with her mother and sister. The trio jumped into the river together. Marzia found her mother at the hospital's ICU, but her sister was still missing.
'WE WILL DIE TOGETHER'
Just before the tragic fire, newlywed couple Al Amin Hawlader and Sumaiya Begum, was experiencing the scenic beauty of the Suganda river at midnight and could see the Barguna launch terminal, nearly a kilometre away from the vessel.
Sumaiya's cousin Tuhin, his wife and two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Tabassum were also on board, sleeping.
Suddenly the launch turned towards a nearby char. When they turned back, they saw a flame engulfing the vessel.
"Panicked people in a rush were throwing their luggage overboard and jumping into the river. Suddenly the vessel's engine broke down and the tide carried it to the middle of the river," said Al Amin.
"My wife and I came to the ground floor and decided to jump. But she said she can't swim… she said 'if we live, we will live together… if we die, we will die together'," said the husband.
Sumaiya caught hold of her husband's waist and a bag to stay afloat. They floated on the river for an hour and a half until villagers, in a dinghy boat, came to their rescue.
"It's like a dream that we survived," said Al Amin while being treated at Barguna General Hospital.
A Fire Service team rescued Sumaiya's cousin and his wife. But their little baby remained missing.