Many among Dead in Bangladesh Factory Fire Burned Beyond Recognition

Ahammad Foyez
Dhaka
2021-07-09
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Many among Dead in Bangladesh Factory Fire Burned Beyond Recognition Unidentified relatives of victims mourn at the site after a fire broke out at the Hashem Foods Ltd. factory near Dhaka, July 9, 2021.
[Reuters]

Most of the at least 52 people who died in a massive factory fire near Bangladesh’s capital have yet to be identified because their bodies were burned beyond recognition, authorities said Friday.

The blaze broke out Thursday evening on the ground floor of the six-story beverage factory, which only had two exits for the entire building, fire officials said. The fire was the latest in a long line of industrial disasters in Bangladesh, once again highlighting lax oversight and corruption in the nation’s factories.

The bodies of the 49 badly burned victims were recovered from the third floor of the Hashem Foods Ltd. Factory in Rupganj, some 20 hours after the blaze began, fire officials said, noting that the exit door on that floor was locked. More than 50 other people were injured in the fire, whose cause was being investigated, officials said.

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Firefighters work at the scene of a fire that broke out at the Hashem Foods Ltd. factory in Rupganj, on the outskirts of Dhaka, July 9, 2021. [Reuters]

“The six-story building had only two exits and there were huge flammable products stored in the building,” Debashish Bardhan, a Fire Service deputy director said at a briefing, without giving details about the products.

“We found the exit gate of the third floor locked, because of which the trapped workers could not come out of the floor and died. If the gate had not been not locked, so many people would not die in the fire.”

Three of the people who died had jumped off the building on Thursday evening – two burned women leapt from the roof and a man from the third floor. The three have been identified.

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People look on as flames rise after a fire broke out at beverage factory in Rupganj, near Dhaka, July 9, 2021. [Reuters]

The bodies of the remaining 49 who could not be identified were wrapped in white bags and sent to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital.

These victims’ DNA would have to be matched with that of their family members, Ashraful Alam, a DNA analyst at the Criminal Investigation Department, told reporters.

Police forensic teams have started collecting DNA samples from the bodies. Teams were also taking DNA samples from families whose kin were working in the factory when the blaze began, and who were still unaccounted for.

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Firefighters wave hands to communicate after entering the factory building where a fire broke out and killed dozens of people in Rupganj, Bangladesh, July 9, 2021. [Reuters]

As of Friday evening, 38 people who were working in the factory at the time of the blaze were reported missing by their families, said Jayedul Alam, the Narayanganj superintendent of police, told BenarNews.

Around 400 people had been working overtime at the factory when the blaze started, and they were spread out across five floors of the building, Salahuddin Mia, an administrative official at the plant, told reporters.

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Firefighters carry bags with bodies of victims of the factory fire in Rupganj, near Dhaka, July 9, 2021. [BenarNews]

Rahima Begum and her son, Rajib Hossain, were among the lucky workers who managed to escape because they working on the ground floor, they said. But Rajib’s wife Amena Begum, who was working on the third floor, was missing as of Friday evening.

Rahima and Rajib spent all of Thursday night outside the burning factory. On Friday afternoon, they went to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital where the unidentifiable bodies had been taken. The two were among scores of others waiting outside the hospital waiting for information about their missing loved ones.

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Exhausted firefighters rest at the site of a factory fire that broke out in Rupganj, on the outskirts of Dhaka, July 9, 2021. [Reuters]

By Friday evening, their patience worn thin, and with little information on their loved ones they clashed with law enforcement personnel outside the hospital. Some factory workers also blocked the Dhaka-Sylhet highway to protest what they said was a delay in the search-and-rescue efforts for the missing.

Md. Jaher, the husband of a missing worker, Feroza Begum, told BenarNews that most of the factory laborers were female and underage.

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Firefighters stand inside the Hashem Foods Ltd. factory, where burnt items are visible after a fire, July 9, 2021. [Reuters]

As of 10:30 p.m. on Friday (local time) the blaze had yet to be fully put out, as firefighters were working to extinguish the sporadic fires on the top floor of the factory.

Bangladesh President M. Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed deep shock and sorrow at this latest incident. The Narayanganj district administration announced 25,000 taka (U.S. $295) compensation for the family of each victim killed and 10,000 taka ($118) for every injured worker.

Hashem Foods had not announced any compensation as of Friday night.

Hashem Foods official Mia denied there was anything flammable inside the 35,000-square foot factory.

Md. Abul Hashem, the factory’s chairman and managing director, said he was not aware of any exit being kept locked.

“My factory maintains all global standards and it was just an accident,” Hashem told BenarNews.

According to the Bangladesh Labor Act 2006, it is an offense to keep any factory exit locked during work hours.

Fire Service Director for Operations Lt. Col. Zillur Rahman said officials would investigate whether the building owner violated any provisions of the Bangladesh National Building Code.

Two separate investigative committees – one headed by a Fire Service officials and the other by a district administration official – have been formed to probe the fire and its aftermath.

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An exhausted firefighter rests at the site of a massive fire at the Hashem Foods Ltd. factory in Rupganj, Bangladesh, July 9, 2021. [Reuters]

But eight years after Bangladesh’s deadliest industrial accident, factories in the South Asian nation remain unsafe, with payoffs at various stages of their construction and little to no oversight by the responsible government departments, rights and anti-corruption watchdogs have said.

In April 2013, more than 1,000 workers were killed and over 2,000 injured in the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in a Dhaka suburb, which housed five garment factories. Labor unions in the South Asian nation called the incident a “mass industrial homicide.”

An investigation found that several building-safety codes were violated and management officials had required factory workers to enter the building against their will, even though the building had developed major cracks on the eve of the collapse.

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