Bangladesh firefighters comb blaze-hit skyscraper as death toll rises to 25

Bangladeshi firefighters try to extinguish a blaze in an office building in Dhaka on March 28, 2019.
Bangladeshi firefighters try to extinguish a blaze in an office building in Dhaka on March 28, 2019.PHOTO: AFP
Bangladeshi Red Crescent volunteers preparing to provide first aid after a blaze broke out in an office building in Dhaka on March 28, 2019.
Bangladeshi Red Crescent volunteers preparing to provide first aid after a blaze broke out in an office building in Dhaka on March 28, 2019.PHOTO: AFP
Bangladeshi firefighters on ladders work to extinguish a blaze in an office building in Dhaka on March 28, 2019.
Bangladeshi firefighters on ladders work to extinguish a blaze in an office building in Dhaka on March 28, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

DHAKA (AFP) - The death toll from a horrific blaze that ripped through a Bangladesh skyscraper rose on Friday (March 29) to 25, including some who leapt to their deaths, as firefighters combed through the charred shell of the building. 

A day after flames tore through the 22-storey FR Tower in Dhaka, trapping hundreds of office workers, police said they intended to talk to the owner of the building as part of their inquiry. 

Some of those stuck inside made it to safety by sliding down cables on the side of the building, but as shocked onlookers watched, others took their chances and jumped in a bid to escape the smoke and heat.

At least six people including a Sri Lankan national died in this way, officials said. 

Senior fire service official Mohsin Ali told AFP that rescuers were scouring the building, concentrating on the worst-affected eighth-to-10th floors. The fire department intially put the death toll at 19, but police said on Friday that six more had died in the fire. 

“The death toll is 25. We have handed over 24 bodies to their relatives,” deputy commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police Mostak Ahmed told AFP. The other victim’s remains are being held until relatives are located.

Mr Ahmed said police also wanted to speak to the owner of the building after the authorities alleged the tower lacked adequate safety measures.

There was no immediate indication if others are missing, but more than 70 people were treated in hospital in the wake of the blaze.

The fire erupted on Thursday afternoon in the upmarket Banani commercial district.

Hundreds of onlookers gathered to watch as trapped workers screamed for help from smoke-logged floors.

Firefighters backed by military specialists - some in helicopters - tackled the blaze, lowering ropes to help people escape, while rescuers on long ladders smashed through windows.

Bangladesh authorities have ordered a probe into the incident, amid official claims that the skyscraper lacked fire equipment, its fire exits were inadequate and it had been illegally extended.

The inferno erupted barely a month after at least 70 people were killed in Dhaka apartment buildings where illegally stored chemicals exploded.

Fire disasters regularly hit Bangladesh's major cities where safety standards are notoriously lax.

According to a 2012 study by Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), most high-rise buildings in Dhaka have inadequate fire safety measures.

"We found only two buildings fully compliant," BUET professor Mehedi Ahmed Ansari said of the survey, adding some of the buildings they looked at were little more than "death traps".

A June 2010 fire in the nearby neighbourhood of Nimtoli, one of the most densely populated districts of the capital, killed 123 people.

In November 2012, a fire swept through a nine-storey garment factory near Dhaka, killing 111 workers. An investigation found it was caused by sabotage and that managers at the plant had prevented victims from escaping.