A massive fire at a container depot near a port city in southeastern Bangladesh killed at least 49 people and injured hundreds of others as firefighters struggled to get the blaze under control.
The fire at the BM Inland Container Depot, a Dutch-Bangladesh joint venture, broke out Saturday evening. As hundreds of firefighters rushed to put it out, several containers of chemicals exploded, according to emergency services.
The cause of the fire could not be immediately determined. The depot is located near the country's main Chittagong seaport, 216 kilometres southeast of the capital Dhaka.
At least five firefighters were among the dead, according to Brigadier General Main Uddin, director-general of the Bangladesh fire service and civil defence. Another 15 firefighters were being treated for burns, according to Uddin.
Multiple rounds of explosions occurred after the initial blast as the fire continued to spread, Uddin said. Explosives experts from Bangladesh's military have been called in to assist the firefighters.
The explosions shattered the windows of nearby buildings and were felt as far as four kilometres away, officials and local media reports said.
"More than 300 people are wounded," the Chittagong region's chief doctor Elias Chowdhury told AFP.
According to Chowdhury, many people are still unaccounted for, including journalists covering the fire. "The number of dead will increase because rescue operations are not over yet."
Volunteers, some of whom were not wearing protective gear, scoured the premises for survivors.
"There are still some bodies inside the fire-affected places. I saw eight or 10 bodies," one volunteer told reporters.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed her shock at the accident and ordered the authorities to provide appropriate medical treatment for the injured.
A history of industrial disasters
Bangladesh has a history of industrial disasters, including factories catching fire with workers trapped inside. Monitoring groups have blamed the accidents on corruption and lax enforcement of labour laws.
Global brands, which employ tens of thousands of low-paid workers in Bangladesh, have come under fire with explicit demands made on owners to improve factory conditions in recent years.
Safety conditions have improved significantly after significant reforms in the country's massive garment industry, which employs about four million people.
However, experts say accidents could still occur if other sectors do not make similar changes.
In 2012, 117 workers died after they were trapped behind locked exits in a garment factory in Dhaka.
The country's worst industrial disaster occurred the following year, when the Rana Plaza garment factory outside Dhaka collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people.
In 2019, a blaze ripped through a 400-year-old area cramped with apartments, shops and warehouses in the oldest part of the capital, killing at least 67 people. Another fire in Old Dhaka in a house illegally storing chemicals killed more than 120 people in 2010.
In 2021, a fire at a food and beverage factory outside Dhaka killed at least 52 people, many of whom were trapped inside by an illegally locked door.