Safety fears delay search of gutted Bangladesh factory

Firefighters at the Tampaco Foils plant in Bangladesh's Tongi industrial zone yesterday. Small fires inside the building, as well as fears that it might collapse, have stalled efforts to search through the debris. The government said it would check t
Firefighters at the Tampaco Foils plant in Bangladesh's Tongi industrial zone yesterday. Small fires inside the building, as well as fears that it might collapse, have stalled efforts to search through the debris. The government said it would check the safety of all factories in Tongi.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

DHAKA • The fire that broke out on Saturday at a food and cigarette packaging factory in Bangladesh and killed at least 29 people has been extinguished, but heavy smoke and the risk of the building collapsing further were hampering the search of the premises, officials have said.

"The building is hot and it is not possible to enter," said Mr Ajit Kumar Bhoumik, a senior official with the fire department, early yesterday. "Also there are huge cracks in the building, so it is very risky to enter without precautionary measures."

Senior firefighting official Anis Mahmud said his workers toiled through the night to douse the blaze but the structure was still too dangerous to enter properly to search through the debris. "The building is still standing on its skeleton, but most of the walls have collapsed. There are small pits of fire inside, therefore we have not managed to go in," he said.

Another firefighter said he feared more bodies were still inside. "There might be more bodies underneath the rubble as many people were working inside during the accident," he said on condition of anonymity.

The blaze at the Tampaco Foils plant was the country's worst industrial accident since the Rana Plaza building collapse of 2013 that killed 1,135 garment sector workers, and raises further questions about Bangladesh's safety record.

The cause of the fire in the Tongi industrial zone about 20km north of the capital, Dhaka, was not immediately known, but officials said a boiler explosion probably triggered it. The blaze broke out as workers prepared to change shifts in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Mr Mikail Shipar, government secretary with the Ministry of Labour and Employment, said the government was now going to investigate safety at all of the hundreds of factories in the Tongi industrial zone.

"We checked the design of this factory and it is our understanding that it was a one-floor building and later the floor had been raised, similar to the case of Rana Plaza," he said.

The location of the boiler in the building was also being scrutinised.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2016, with the headline 'Safety fears delay search of gutted Bangladesh factory'. Print Edition | Subscribe