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49 killed in fire at Bangladesh chemical container depot

Dhaka: A massive fire and a series of subsequent explosions at a private chemical container depot in southeastern Bangladesh killed at least 49 people, including nine firefighters, and injured more than 450 others, officials said on Sunday, as firefighters were still struggling to put out the blaze. According to doctors, the toll could rise further as many of the injured people were being treated with severe burns. The firefighters backed by army troops were yet to enter deep down the blast site to douse the fire nearly 23 hours after the fire broke out on Saturday. "The fire was caused by chemicals including hydrogen peroxide, making the situation difficult, fire service chief Brigadier General Mohammad Mainuddin told reporters at the scene where the firefighters were trying to extinguish the blaze amid intermittent explosions since Saturday evening. The official expected the firefighters to put out the blaze and halt the explosions by tonight. The disaster prompted authorities to call out army sappers to prevent the spread of chemicals in nearby canals and the coastlines of the Bay of Bengal. Fire service officials said nine of their colleagues were killed in explosions as they rushed to the scene immediately after the blaze was reported at the BM Container Depot in Sitakunda at the outskirts of the port city of Chattogram. This was the first time in known Bangladesh history when so many firefighters were killed in the line of duty in a single such disaster.

"So far 49 bodies have arrived at the (Chattogram Medical College Hospital or CMCH) morgue," police sub-inspector at the facility Mohammad Alauddin told reporters.

Doctors at the state-run CMCH, which accommodated most of the wounded people, said the fate of over a dozen of the burn-injured patients

was uncertain due to their critical wounds.

Dozens more, including firefighters are being treated at the Chattogram Combined Military Hospital (CMH) while Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ordered military helicopters to bring the critically wounded patients to Dhaka for better treatment.

Chattogram Divisional Commissioner (DC) Ashraf Uddin said that families of the deceased would be given $560 (Taka 50,000) by the DC office, and $224 (Taka 20,000) would be given to the families of the injured, the Daily Star newspaper reported.

Bangladesh's Parliament, which met on its maiden budget session on Sunday, adopted a condolence motion over the tragedy.

Officials and witnesses speculated that the firefighters were initially unaware that the depot stored chemicals to cause blasts while video footage which went viral showed a teenage boy doing Facebook live and moments later virtually vanishing alongside the firemen.

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