DHAKA — At least 85 people were killed and over 100 injured when a fire tore through a row of crowded buildings in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, where a wedding party was under way, police said Thursday.
The massive blaze raced through a row of multi-storey apartment buildings trapping hundreds of residents in Kayettuli, one of Dhaka's most densely populated areas, Dhaka police chief A.K.M Shahidul Haq told AFP.
"We have now recovered at least 85 dead bodies. The bodies have been sent to various hospitals in the capital," he said.
Fire department chief Abu Nayeem told AFP the fire had been caused by an electrical fault and spread before fire fighters could access the area.
"A wedding party was on the roof of one building and we think this is why the number of casualties is so high," Nayeem said, adding that highly flammable stock, including chemicals, in a string of small shops had fueled the blaze.
One eye-witness also told AFP that there had been a large wedding party on the roof of one of the buildings consumed by the blaze.
"The bride was spared from the fire as she had been at the local beauty salon," he said.
"At least seven building have been engulfed. There were shops selling chemicals on the ground floor, which were caught by the fire as it spread very quickly," fire chief Nayeem said.
"The temperature and fumes became unbearable because of the chemicals," he said, adding that a bakery with several large gas burners and a string of small shops selling cheap, flammable plastic goods had also caught fire.
"We struggled to get inside due to the narrow stairways of the very old buildings, it is almost impossible for us to get fire-fighting equipment into the area," he said, adding it took some three hours to contain the blaze.
Hundreds of people were trapped in burning buildings for hours as rescue workers struggled to contain the blaze, their work hampered by the narrow lanes of the crowded residential area.
"It's a huge tragedy. We have called all Dhaka Medical College doctors from their homes to come and treat the patients," Health Minister A.H.M Ruhal Haque told AFP.
The hospital had been overwhelmed by fire victims, said Shahidul Bari, a specialist at the burns unit.
He said 12 bodies had been received at the morgue soon after the fire began. Another 100 people had been admitted with severe burns and smoke inhalation.
"Our unit is full and more patients are pouring in. It's a disaster of huge proportion," Bari said.
"Patients are being treated in the corridors and still more are coming in. We are sending the most critically ill to the hospital's emergency units," he said.
Fires due to short-circuits, substandard wiring and electrical faults are common in Bangladesh, where building regulations are rarely enforced.
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