Smoke is still coming out of the fourth and fifth floors of the building
Firefighters recovered 49 charred bodies of workers from the burning Shezan juice factory in Narayanganj on Friday, taking the death toll to 52.
As many as 18 fire-fighting units from Narayanganj and Dhaka were working to douse the flames till 5:30pm, while the search and rescue operation continued amid smoke still brewing off the fourth and fifth floors of the building.
“Many others are feared dead. The rescue operation is underway,” said Fire Service Deputy Director (Dhaka) Debashish Bardhan.
The 49 bodies were recovered from the third floor of the building where most of the workers took shelter, fire officials say. They could be identified later once DNA tests are conducted at Dhaka Medical College.
On Thursday, three deaths were reported in the immediate aftermath of the fire at the six-storey factory building of Hashem Foods Limited, a sister concern of Sajeeb Group, at the Kornogop area of Bhulta under Rupganj upazila.
The trio sustained injuries after jumping off the building. Over 50 other workers were also injured while trying to come out of the building immediately after the fire broke out on Thursday.
President Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina have expressed profound shock and grief over the loss of lives in the fire.
A seven-member probe committee has been formed by the district administration to look into the incident.
Besides, the district administration has declared Tk30,000 and Tk10,000 as compensation for the families of each deceased and each injured.
Relatives of missing workers gathered outside the factory after learning about the fire on Thursday afternoon.
The local administration has drawn up a list of 44 missing workers based on statements from relatives until 1pm on Friday, said Bhulta police outpost Sub-Inspector Md Mintu.
Fire officials said it was difficult to bring the blaze under control due to the plastic and chemicals stored in parts of the building.
The severe heat from the blaze has caused cracks in a part of the building. The windows, including aluminum structures, are falling apart, with plumes of black smoke billowing out of the factory.
Workers jumped off the building
The factory, which manufactures various juices, soft drinks and food items, caught fire around 4:30pm on Thursday. Fire Service officials say they were informed about the fire around 5:50pm.
Firefighters said many people jumped off the building in a bid to save themselves from the blaze. Three of them succumbed to their injuries late on Thursday.
Mina Akter, 40, and Swapna Rani, 38, died on the way to a local hospital, according to Kanchan Fire Service Station Officer Shah Alam.
Another worker, Musralin, 24, died while undergoing treatment at Dhaka Medical College Hospital on Thursday night, said Inspector Bachchu Mia of the hospital’s police outpost.
Mursalin was taken to the hospital along with 11-13 others in the evening. A dozen others were admitted at US-Bangla Medical College and Hospital in Narayanganj’s Rupganj upazila town.
All of them were injured when they jumped off the second and third floors of the building, according to emergency responders.
Gates kept locked
Survivors and relatives alleged the front gate, which is the only way to enter and leave the factory premises, had been locked since the fire broke out.
When most of the workers took refuge on the third floor on Thursday afternoon, the factory officials locked the gate of the floor. The charred bodies found on Friday were recovered from this floor.
The factory building had no proper fire safety measures, according to the workers.
Several local people and workers said that another small broke out in the factory two weeks ago, when a worker was killed in the incident.
Moreover, on July 1, the workers staged a protest demanding dues and allowance for overtime.
Enraged by delays in rescuing the people trapped inside the building, relatives of the deceased and missing workers protested in front of the factory building and occupying Dhaka-Sylhet Highway on Thursday and Friday.
Tempers began to flare on Friday morning, when the survivors and relatives vandalized vehicles. A clash with the police ensued, and tear gas shells were fired to disperse the agitated crowd.
Deputy Director of Narayanganj District Fire Service Abdullah Al Arefin said it would take some time to fully control the fire.
“Until the fire is doused, it is not possible to say exactly how much damage has occurred and the cause of the fire,” he added.