Bangladeshi housing-block fire kills more than 100
- 4 June 2010
- From the section South Asia
A blaze in a densely populated part of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka has killed more than 116 people.
It began when an electrical transformer exploded, setting on fire shops and housing, including a five-storey residential block, where a wedding party was being held on the roof.
The blaze in the old district of Nimtoli has been extinguished, but the search for bodies is still continuing.
Correspondents say this has been the worst fire in Dhaka for over 20 years.
Nimtoli district is crammed with buildings and roads are narrow, making access for the emergency services difficult.
The BBC's Mark Dummett in Dhaka says the city is one of the most densely populated cities in the world - and Nimtoli is its most crowded district.
The blaze engulfed a five-storey apartment block that had metal grilles on its windows and no fire escape.
Emergency services say that they do not expect to recover any survivors from the site, which remains cordoned off as they complete the last stages of the rescue operation.
Fire department chief Abu Nayeem said the fire had engulfed at least seven buildings.
"There were shops selling chemicals on the ground floor, which were caught by the fire as it spread very quickly," he told the AFP news agency.
"The temperature and fumes became unbearable because of the chemicals.
"We struggled to get inside due to the narrow stairways of the very old buildings."
A large wedding party was under way on the roof of one of the buildings at the time of the fire.
"The bride was spared from the fire as she had been at the local beauty salon," an eyewitness told AFP.
Other eyewitnesses have described to the BBC the horrific scenes as the full extent of the fire became apparent.
"What I saw here can only be described as scenes from hell - there was nothing we could do - we had to stand at a distance and watch people burning and dying," said Iqbal Hossein.
"Down this street the fire was advancing like lava... and everywhere people were running and screaming in pain and fear. People couldn't help each other - they were dying where they stood."
The blaze started on Thursday night when the transformer exploded after a rainstorm swept the city, police say.
The flames quickly spread to at least six apartment buildings and about 15 stores. The transformer explosion also plunged the area into darkness, making escape more difficult.
"There were screams, shouts for help and total chaos," police spokesman Abul Kalam told the AP news agency.
Imrul Hasan, a doctor at the burns unit of Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH), told the BBC that he had personally counted 45 bodies laid out on a road near the site of the fire, just 200m from the hospital.
Most of the dead had minimal burns and the cause of death for most appeared to have been smoke inhalation, he said.
"The number [of dead] is rising every moment," he said.
Dr Hasan said the burns unit at DMCH had already been overcrowded with patients before the blaze.
TV footage showed firefighters and residents carrying injured people by tricycle rickshaws to hospitals.
Reuters news agency reported that sobbing relatives were at the hospital looking for loved ones.
Businessman Mohammad Gulzar, who was hosting the wedding reception, said: "Why me, Allah? What wrong have I committed?"
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed has visited survivors and declared Saturday a national day of mourning.
Flags will be flown at half-staff and special prayers will be said at places of worships across the country.