Firefighters at Bangladesh’s port city of Chittagong are continuing the battle for the third consecutive day to put out a blaze that killed at least 41 and injured more than 200 people at a container depot.
The fire spread after an explosion rocked the BM Container Depot in Sitakunda Upazila, located 216km southeast of Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka at 9pm local time on Saturday.
As of Monday morning, however, the blaze was not completely extinguished, raising concerns that containers loaded with chemicals could pose the risk of more life-threatening explosions.
Thick columns of smoke emerged from the depot while rows of containers were burnt out.
Bangladesh’s army has been pressed into action to prevent the spread of chemicals in nearby water bodies and the ecologically crucial Bay of Bengal coastline.
Firemen said their primary goal was to douse the fire from burning containers that had chemicals in them, while adding that there was a possibility that the containers next to the burning ones also have chemicals, forcing them to work cautiously.
“Our firefighters are working hard, but due to the presence of chemicals, it’s too risky to work close by,” Anisur Rahman, fire service chief of the port city, told the Associated Press.
Similar explosions which shattered the windows of neighbourhood buildings have further complicated the firefighters’s task. Fire service official Md Akhtaruzzaman said six to seven containers with readymade garments were still burning.
Although the cause of the blaze is yet to be known, fire officials suspect it could have originated in a container of hydrogen peroxide before quickly spreading.
The death toll from Saturday’s blast was revised by one to 41, including at least nine firefighters. The number is expected to rise as some remain injured in critical conditions, officials said.
“Almost all the containers with exportable and imported goods were burned,” said Ruhul Amin Sikder, secretary of the Bangladesh Inland Container Depots Association, an industry body.
There were nearly 800 containers filled with exportable items, about 500 with imported items and around 3,000 that were empty, Mr Sikder added.
“Some 85 per cent of the total exportable goods were readymade garments.”
Meanwhile, locals from nearby villages are leaving their homes fearing more explosions.
“I have sent my two children to my father’s house a day after the explosion out of fear. We thought we would stay here but the fire is not doused as yet. We are now considering leaving the house in fear of yet another explosion,” Selina Akhter, a resident of Keshabpur village, told national daily Prothom Alo.
The shipping facility has promised a compensation of 1m taka (approximately £8,763) to the family of each worker killed in the fire.