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7, not 9, killed in B'desh garment factory blaze
Publication Date : 10-10-2013
Now, all that is left of him is the metal buckle of the belt he had on that fateful night, which glistened amid the soot and char, as if to draw attention to the burnt remains of its owner.
It was found on the second floor of Aswad Composite Mills in Gazipur, where a devastating fire killed seven people on Tuesday night. Bones and flesh, fans, shards of glass, teacups and charred knitting machines littered the floor of the two-storey building.
Police yesterday revised down the death toll to seven from nine earlier, in a factory tragedy that struck Bangladesh's $20 billion garment industry for the second time in about six months.
The tragedy put new pressure on the sector as Bangladesh is struggling to rebuild its image as the second largest garment exporter, tainted by the fatal collapse of Rana Plaza that killed 1,132 workers.
“Shortly after 5:45pm, I heard repeated fire alarms at the factory. At first I thought it was part of fire training. And then I saw flames and smoke billowing from the ground floor,” said Rubel Ahmed, one of the 230 nightshift workers who were on duty during Tuesday’s blaze.
“Suddenly I saw fire coming through a pipe,” said Ansar Ali, another worker. It spread like a streak of lightning once it came into contact with yarns and fabrics.
The situation went out of control within 2-3 minutes. “I right away went for the exit and instructed everyone to do the same,” Ali said.
Thanks to reasonable fire safety measures, most of the people could escape the inferno.
“But some of us who had fire-fighting training stayed back to contain the fire,” Ali said.
Unfortunately, the flames were so ferocious that the fire extinguishers were of no use.
“Being a mechanic, I know how to operate those — that’s why I felt the moral obligation to go there. But I had to leave the building as the extinguishers were not enough to fight the blaze,” said Mehdi Hasan, an assistant at the factory’s technical department.
To make things worse, there was no electricity connection, he added.
“We did our best for one and a half hours to control the fire with those hose reels but it was not enough,” said Mahmudul Karim, floor in-charge of the factory’s garment section.
Fire fighters completely extinguished the blaze at 4am, more than 10 hours after it started, with 16 water pumps from six fire stations, according to Mohammad Mahboob, director of operation and maintenance of Fire Service and Civil Defence.
Meanwhile, the workers claimed that the firefighting units came in about two hours late.
A fire service official said: “The closest fire station was 30 kilometres away and there was huge traffic jam. The units reached the spot one hour after the fire started.”
The cause of the fire was not yet confirmed by the authorities, but Nafis Sikder, the owner of the company, said it was not act of sabotage, but an industrial accident.
Workers said the fire stemmed from a malfunctioning heating machine housed on the ground floor and flames leapt upward.
Mahboob said a seven-member panel headed by Additional District Magistrate Md Mohsin is investigating the matter and would submit a report within seven working days.
A team from Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association is also working to find out the cause of the fire.
The might of the fire could be felt even on the following day. Smoke was still billowing from some points of the building, and its steel walls and roof melting.
As Hasan was showing one of the correspondents around the ravaged building, his mobile phone rang.
“Ma, I am fine. Please don’t cry. When you cry I feel bad,” he told his anxious mother in Chuadanga district, more than 200 kilometres away from Gazipur.
“I am coming home for Eid. You can see for yourself that I am all right,” the 24-year old said.
But for the families of those seven dead, there is no such silver lining to look forward to.
The dead are: AGM Rashiduzzaman, assistant general manager of the Palmal Group-owned factory, his nephew Nayeem, Minhazul, 24, Bulbul, 28, Rubel, 25, Raju, 27, and Khalil Mia, 25.
“All the bodies have been handed over to their family members following identification,” Shahnowaz Dilruba, additional deputy commissioner of Gazipur district, told The Daily Star.
The factory has been declared closed indefinitely, Bazlur Rashid, a manager of Aswad Composite Mills, said.