At least 52 people were killed when a massive fire engulfed a food and drink factory in Bangladesh, as they were unable to escape due to an illegally locked door, fire officials said Friday.
The fire started Thursday night on the ground floor of a five-story Hashem Foods factory in Rupganj, just outside Dhaka, sending huge clouds of black smoke billowing into the sky.
Police initially put the death toll at three, but on Friday afternoon discovered piles of bodies after the fire was extinguished.
So far 52 bodies have been recovered, but the factory’s top two floors are yet to be searched, said Debasish Bardhan, the deputy director of the fire service and civil defence.
He said the factory’s main exit was locked from the inside and many of those who died were trapped.
Many workers jumped from the upper floors and at least 26 suffered injuries, the United News of Bangladesh agency reported.
Information about how many people were in the factory and how many were missing was not immediately available.
“For now, we only have these details. After searching the top floors we will be able to get a complete picture,” Bardhan said.
Bangladesh has a history of industrial disasters, including factories catching fire with workers locked inside.
Continuing corruption and lax enforcement have resulted in many deaths over the years, and big international brands, which employ tens of thousands of low-paid workers in Bangladesh, have come under pressure to improve factory conditions after fires and other disasters killed thousands of people.
As the recovery effort was carried out on Friday, victims in white body bags were piled in a fleet of ambulances as relatives cried. As the heavy smoke continued to rise from the still smouldering factory, weeping relatives of missing workers waited anxiously outside for news.
Earlier, family members clashed with police as they waited overnight without any word on the fate of their loved ones.
The government ordered an investigation into the cause of the fire.
Past industrial tragedies have often been attributed to safety lapses that still plague the south Asian country despite its rapid economic growth.
In 2012, about 117 workers died when 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.
Authorities imposed tougher safety rules after that disaster and the country’s garment industry has since become largely compliant under domestic and global watchdogs. But many other local industries fail to maintain safety compliance and the disasters have continued.
In February 2019, a blaze ripped through a 400-year-old area cramped with apartments, shops and warehouses in the oldest part of Dhaka and killed at least 67 people. Another fire in Old Dhaka in a house illegally storing chemicals killed at least 123 people in 2010.
The International Labour Organization said in a 2017 report that Bangladesh’s regulatory framework and inspections “had not been able to keep pace with the development of the industry”. (Source: The Guardian)