A fire breaks out at a plastics factory in Bangladesh's capital
Authorities are searching for more bodies, police chief says
Bangladesh has seen many deadly factory fires before
At least 13 people are dead and many workers still missing Saturday evening after a fire broke out inside a factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh – the latest such deadly blaze in the south Asian nation.
Mohammad Salimuzzaman, the officer in charge of the police station in the area of the nation’s capital were the fire occurred, said authorities had sent at least 13 bodies to a hospital morgue. Many of the bodies were disfigured and charred beyond recognition.
A short time earlier, Dhaka police chief Asaduzzaman Mia told reporters about the efforts to find others who were in the five-story building.
“The rescuers were still searching for bodies in the debris,” Mia said.
Such factories – making products for a number of Western retailers – play a big part in Bangladesh’s economy, with ready-made garments alone making up 80% of the country’s $24 billion in annual exports. The factory that burned Saturday was used to make plastic goods.
These buildings haven’t always proven to be the safest places to work. There are many examples in recent years of fatal factory fires in Bangladesh, the most glaring being the spring 2013 collapse of a nine-story building that housed five garment factories.
Firefighters: Chemicals fueled the flames
Saturday’s fire started on the plastic factor’s ground floor and immediately and quickly spread, fueled by flammable chemicals in the building, firefighters said.
Authorities didn’t say how many people were in the building when this happened, and thus how many remained unaccounted for. Yet some of those escaped – and there were many – estimated about 80 or 90 others worked there.
Afterward, the scene filled with not only firefighters but several thousand onlookers, some of them trying to track down their still-missing relatives.
Firefighters didn’t specify exactly what caused the blaze, though they suspected a busted gas cylinder may be to blame.
Government revised labor laws after past fires
Past factory fires have led to emotional rhetoric from officials, calls for action and, in some cases, criminal charges.
Thirteen people were found guilty of gross negligence of safety measures and charged with “culpable homicide” after a November 2012 apparel factory fire on Dhaka’s outskirts that killed at least 117 people and spurred others to jump from the building to escape the flames. Most of those dead in that blaze were women, almost half of them burned so bad that DNA tests were needed to identify them.
The building collapse months later in Dhaka was even more appalling and exponentially more deadly.
That blaze spurred widespread criticism about the state of workers rights in Bangladesh. The government responded by revampling laws so that workers no longer need approval from employers to form trade unions, and every factory that sells within the country also has to pledge 5% of their profits toward a workers’ welfare fund. The government also boosted minimum wages from $38 to around $68 per month.
Journalist Farid Ahmed reported from Bangladesh, and CNN’s Greg Botelho wrote this story from Atlanta.