At least 52 people died in a huge blaze that engulfed a food and beverage factory outside Bangladesh’s capital, fire officials said Friday, in the latest industrial disaster to hit the South Asian nation.
The blaze began Thursday night at the five-story Hashem Food and Beverage Ltd. factory in Rupganj, just outside Dhaka, sending huge clouds of black smoke billowing into the sky. Police initially gave a toll of three dead, but then discovered piles of bodies on Friday afternoon after the fire was extinguished.
In addition, at least 26 workers were injured when they jumped from the upper floors as the fire engulfed the building, the United News of Bangladesh agency reported.
Debasish Bardhan, deputy director of the Fire Service and Civil Defense, said 52 bodies had been recovered from inside the factory and rescue operations were continuing. He said the top two floors had not yet been searched.
The main exit of the factory, which processes juice, soft drinks and other food items, was locked from the inside, he said.
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.
Victims in white body bags were piled in a fleet of ambulances as relatives wailed. As the heavy smoke continued to rise from the still smoldering factory, weeping family members of missing workers waited anxiously for news of loved ones outside the blazed site.
Earlier, family members clashed with police as they waited overnight without any word of the fate of their loved ones.
Before the blaze was put out, TV channels showed flames shooting out of the windows of the factory as hundreds of people lined up to watch the firefighters douse the fire.
The government ordered an investigation into the cause of the fire.
Bangladesh has a history of deadly factory fires. They are often attributed to safety lapses that still plague the South Asian country despite its rapid economic growth.
Continuing corruption and lax enforcement have resulted in many deaths over the years, and big Western brands, which employ tens of thousands of low-paid workers in Bangladesh, have come under heavy pressure to improve factory conditions after fires and other disasters killed hundreds of people.
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.
Authorities imposed tougher safety rules after more than 1,100 people died when a garment factory complex collapsed near Dhaka in 2013. 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.
The International Labor 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.”
(This news report has been updated after first publication)