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24 Feb 2006 09:20
At least 51 people were killed and more than 100 injured when a fire swept through a textile factory in the Bangladeshi city of Chittagong, officials said on Friday.
Up to 500 people were believed to be working in the factory when the fire broke out on Thursday, and several platoons of army troops took over the rescue operation after the firefighters struggled to contain the blaze.
So far 41 bodies had been pulled out of the gutted factory on Friday morning, taking the death toll to at least 51 from Thursday’s blaze, an officer of the elite Rapid Action Batallion, Rafiqul Islam, told Agence France-Presse.
“We just managed to put out the fire after more than 10 hours,” local fire chief Rashedul Islam said earlier.
Witnesses said the fire broke out after a loud noise on Thursday evening. They said the main gate of the factory was locked by the factory’s caretaker, trapping many workers, most of them women, inside.
“The main gate was locked when we heard a loud noise followed by fire and an electricity cut,” a worker from the factory told ATN Bangla television.
“Some neighbours cut open the window grilles to help us out of the factory,” he said.
Salauddin Ahmed, a doctor at the emergency ward of Chittagong Medical College Hospital, said around 60 people were hospitalised, “mostly with burn injuries and some with broken ribs after they jumped from the upper floors”.
He said at least 25 people were in critical condition.
About 40 people had been treated on the scene earlier.
Emergency crews reportedly managed to evacuate the ground floor but many people were believed to have been trapped in the upper levels of the four-storey building.
One witness said he saw people jumping from the third floor to escape the blaze, believed to have been started by a short circuit.
Bangladesh is home to about 4 000 textile factories which have been plagued by accidents due to poor safety standards.
Textiles are Bangladesh’s biggest export, bringing in nearly 80% of its total foreign exchange earnings.
Six people were killed earlier this month at a textile factory fire near Dhaka.
A government investigation found it had been built on marshland without planning permission.
In November 2000, at least 48 workers died and more than 150 were injured when they were trapped in a burning factory near Dhaka due to a locked fire exit. - AFP
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