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Fires

At least 49 dead in fire at Bangladesh container depot

Firefighters struggle to get blaze under control

Smoke rising after a massive fire broke out in an inland container depot at Sitakunda, near the port city Chittagong, Bangladesh, on June 5.   © Reuters

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) -- A massive fire at a container depot near a port city in southeastern Bangladesh killed at least 49 people and injured more than 150 others, officials and local media reported Sunday, as firefighters struggled to get the blaze under control.

The fire at the BM Inland Container Depot, a Dutch-Bangladesh joint venture, broke out around midnight Saturday following explosions in a container full of chemicals. The cause of the fire could not be immediately determined. The depot is located near the country's main Chittagong Seaport, 216 kilometers (134 miles) southeast of the capital, Dhaka.

Chemical-filled containers were still exploding on Sunday as firefighters were attempting to douse the fire. Officials said the army had joined the mission.

At least five firefighters were among the dead, according to Brig. Gen. Main Uddin, director general of the Bangladesh fire service and civil defense. Another 15 firefighters were being treated for burns, he added.

Multiple rounds of explosions occurred after the initial blast as the fire continued to spread, Uddin said. Explosives experts from Bangladesh's military have been called in to assist the firefighters. The explosions shattered the windows of nearby buildings and were felt as far as 4 kilometers (2 1/2 miles) away, officials and local media reports said.

By Sunday evening, the death toll reached 49.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed her shock at the accident and ordered adequate arrangement for medical treatment of the injured.

Bangladesh has a history of industrial disasters, including factories catching fire with workers trapped inside. Monitoring groups have blamed corruption and lax enforcement.

Global brands, which employ tens of thousands of low-paid workers in Bangladesh, have come under fire to improve factory conditions in recent years. In the country's massive garment industry, which employs about 4 million people, safety conditions have improved significantly after massive reforms, but experts say accidents could still occur if other sectors do not make similar changes.

In 2012, about 117 workers died when they were trapped behind locked exits in a garment factory in Dhaka.

The country's worst industrial disaster occurred the following year, when the Rana Plaza garment factory outside Dhaka collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people.

In 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.

In 2021, a fire at a food and beverage factory outside Dhaka killed at least 52 people, many of whom were trapped inside by an illegally locked door.

Additional reporting by Reuters.

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