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‘Earthquake-like’ building explosion kills 17 and injures more than 100 in Bangladesh

Firefighters and emergency teams work amid debris a day after an explosion inside a building in Dhaka on 8 March (AFP via Getty Images)
Firefighters and emergency teams work amid debris a day after an explosion inside a building in Dhaka on 8 March (AFP via Getty Images)

At least 17 were killed and more than 100 injured after a powerful “earthquake-like” explosion ripped through a six-storey building in Bangladesh.

The explosion occurred around 4.50pm local time on Tuesday in Dhaka’s crowded Gulistan area. At least 200 firemen in 11 firefighting units were dispatched for rescue and relief operations.

By Wednesday morning, the bodies of 17 people were handed over to their families, reported local media. Two women were among those who died.

“Three people are reported still missing. It has not yet been confirmed whether they were injured or killed,” senior police official Subir Kumar was quoted as saying by the Dhaka Tribune newspaper.

Ten of the injured are in a critical condition and have been admitted to Dhaka’s Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery.

“Sixteen bodies have been found (so far), but the toll could rise as the rescue operation is underway,” a fire service official told reporters earlier. Later one more person succumbed to his injuries at the hospital, increasing the toll to 17.

“Most of the deaths were caused by brain haemorrhage,” claimed the country’s health minister Zahid Maleque.

Firefighting units had halted rescue efforts late on Tuesday as fears emerged about the building’s stability due to cracks.

Several people were trapped under rubble after the explosion.

Firefighters inspect the site of an explosion at Siddique Bazar area in Dhaka (EPA)
Firefighters inspect the site of an explosion at Siddique Bazar area in Dhaka (EPA)

“We have to cut through the concrete to rescue them. The fire service is working on it,” an official had said.

Police have not been able to ascertain the exact cause of the explosion that locals described as “earthquake-like”. Officials believe the explosion was an accident, but said they will investigate if they find any contrary evidence.

Some residents suspect illegal chemicals stored in the building caused the blast.

“At first, I thought it was an earthquake. The entire area was shaken by the blast,” eyewitness Safayet Hossain who owns a shop in the Gulistan area was quoted as saying by The Daily Star.

“I saw 20-25 people lying in the road in front of a damaged building. They were seriously injured and bleeding. They were crying out for help. Some people were running around in panic,” he said.

On Wednesday, the resumption of rescue operations at the Gulistan building – used as an office and business complex – progressed slowly given fears about the building’s stability.

Jafor Hossain, a deputy police commissioner, said rescue personnel could not start operations on a full scale until receiving clearance from authorities, according to The Daily Star.

Firefighters shift a body bag of victims after an explosion at Siddique Bazar area in Dhaka, Bangladesh on 7 March (EPA)
Firefighters shift a body bag of victims after an explosion at Siddique Bazar area in Dhaka, Bangladesh on 7 March (EPA)

He said the beams and pillars in the building’s basement are damaged and operating heavy machinery in the area, such as excavators, could create vibrations that might cause the building to collapse.

Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence have reportedly formed a five-member committee to investigate the explosion. The committee will submit a probe report within five working days.