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Bangladesh ICD mishap continues to engulf property and lives, firefighters still struggle to douse flames

BM ICD fire
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The BM Inland Container Depot (ICD) near the Chittagong Seaport in Bangladesh continues to burn on the 3rd day, engulfing property and lives. The death toll of the massive fire reached 49 on Sunday night, including the lives of 9 firefighters according to Ekattor TV station. While the cause of the fire has not yet been determined, it has injured hundreds of those present at the location, 216 kilometers southeast of the capital city of Dhaka. The fire erupted at around 11.00 p.m. local time (1700GMT) in the city’s Sitakunda area.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed her shock at the accident and ordered adequate arrangement for medical treatment of the injured. He ordered military helicopters to fly the critically injured to Dhaka for better treatment, while most of the injured are being treated at the Chattogram Medical College Hospital and Chattogram Combined Military Hospital.

According to Brig. Gen. Main Uddin, the Director General of the Bangladesh fire service and civil defence, while 9 firefighters lost their lives, more than 10 others were being treated for burns. He added that after the first blast in one of the containers at the depot which contained hydrogen peroxide, multiple explosions took place at the ICD. It is also difficult to manage the situation as they are chemical fires, he said. The explosions shattered the windows of nearby buildings and were felt as far as 4 kilometers (2 1/2 miles) away, officials and local media reports said.

As per the reports, the Bangladesh army is now a part of the firefighting and rescue operations at the ICD and the death toll along with the number of those injured is expected to rise further as many of those being treated at the hospitals are cases of severe burns.

The Chattogram Divisional Commissioner Ashraf Uddin said that families of the deceased would be given USD 560 (Taka 50,000) by the DC office, and USD 224 (Taka 20,000) would be given to the families of the injured, the Daily Star newspaper reported. Mujibur Rehman, Director of the BM ICD also said that the entire expenses of treatment for the injured will be borne by the Depot and it will also take the responsibility of the families of all victims who lost their lives.

Though Bangladesh has risen to become the second largest exporter of garments in the world, the country has had a history of industrial disasters triggered by highly precarious working conditions. The most recent was the fire in food and beverage factory in 2021, which killed 52 people. Many of them were trapped in the building by an illegally locked door.

By our private opinion, there is an urgent need to address the safety lapses in Bangladesh’s industrial areas, including the enactment of appropriate chemical management plans for places that store chemicals and other hazardous materials. Had there been one in place already, the devastating fire at the BM ICD could have been managed in a better way, if not avoided altogether.

The fire not only engulfed port employees and emergency workers, hurling debris and people in the air, but also poses as a serious ecological hazard considering the toxic, pungent fumes that are released into the air as the fire rages.

According to Akbar Hossain, BBC’s Dhaka correspondent, Bangladeshis are comparing the explosion to the huge ammonium nitrate blast in Beirut (2020), which killed over 200 people, injured 7,500 and damaged some 300,000 homes. The blast added on to Lebanon’s pre-existing harsh economic crisis.

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