Relatives flock to hospitals after Bangladesh blast kills more than 40

·3-min read

Scores of people gathered to give DNA samples at a Bangladesh hospital Monday as authorities struggled to identify the remains of more than 40 people killed in a devastating explosion.

Dozens of missing workers from a container depot were still unaccounted for, while many of the dead were burned beyond recognition.

Nine of the victims were firefighters, and officials accused the operators of the B.M. Container Depot in Sitakunda of not telling them about a chemical stockpile before it exploded, sending fireballs into the sky.

Munni Akhter, 25, queued for hours to give a DNA sample at a makeshift stand outside the Chittagong Medical College.

When her turn finally came she struggled to hold back tears as doctors took her blood.

Her lorry driver brother Mohammad Akhter was giving a "running commentary" on the fire on Facebook Live, she told AFP, holding up a phone showing his broadcast.

"Then after the blast, it was all dark," she said. "Since then, we couldn't find him."

Abdul Hannan, 60, carried a portrait of his missing son, a worker at the depot.

"My son called his wife and told her about the fire," he said.

"She heard the explosion over the phone. Since then, we couldn't contact him anymore. I have lost my child, oh God!"

Authorities revised the death toll down from 49 to 41, but it was expected to rise again with at least 14 critically injured victims flown to the capital Dhaka in military helicopters for treatment.

Officials said at least nine firefighters were killed in the inferno -- the most Bangladesh has ever lost in a single incident in the industrial-accident-prone country, where safety standards are lax and corruption often enables them to be ignored.

Two more firefighters are among several people still missing, officials said.

"Never in the history of the fire department have so many firefighters died," said Purnachandra Mutsuddi, who led the fire-fighting effort at the 26-acre facility on Saturday night.

"How do you feel when you recover your brothers? No event is as painful as this."

- Smouldering containers -

The depot operator did not inform the firefighters about the chemicals, specifically hydrogen peroxide, stored on site, Mutsuddi told AFP.

"If they did, the casualties would have been much less," he said.

Mutsuddi, an assistant director of the Chittagong fire station, said the firefighters unwittingly doused the hydrogen peroxide with water, setting off an explosive reaction.

The B.M. Container Depot in Sitakunda, an industrial town 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Chittagong Port, is a joint venture between Bangladeshi and Dutch businessmen with around 600 employees, and began operations in 2012.

Police have yet to lay charges over the fire.

Some containers were still smouldering on Monday, more than 40 hours after the explosion, preventing rescuers from checking the area around them for victims.

"The fire is under control," said fire department inspector Harunur Rashid. "But the chemicals are the main problems."

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan visited the site and vowed those responsible would be brought to justice, telling reporters: "Whoever has committed the crime will face action according to the law."

Around 90 percent of Bangladesh's roughly 100 billion dollars in trade -- including clothes for H&M, Walmart and others -- passes through the Chittagong port at the top of the Bay of Bengal.

Rakibul Alam Chowdhury, from the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said about 110 million dollars worth of garments were destroyed in the fire.

"It is a huge loss for the industry," he said.

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