Keraniganj factory fire death toll rises to 13

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Authorities find factory owner negligent

The death toll from the Keraniganj plastic factory fire climbed to 13 on Thursday, after 12 victims succumbed to burn injuries at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) burn unit between Wednesday night and yesterday.

Meanwhile, after primary investigations, the Fire Service and Civil Defence found the factory owner negligent in addressing the fire hazard issues.

After visiting the other victims at the hospital, Health Minister Zahid Maleque on Thursday also told reporters that the fatal incident took place due to the negligent behaviour of the owner. “The owner will have to pay compensation and the government will ensure that.”

The 13 deceased were identified as Mahbub Hossain, 26, Salauddin, 32, Bablu, 26, Abdul Khalek, 35, Rayhan Biswas, 16, Imran, 18, Jinarul, 32, Md Alam, 35, Sujon, 19, Jahangir Matubbar, 55, Faisal, 29, Faruk, 32, Mehedi, 20, and Mahbub Hossain, 26.

Later in the day, the bodies of 10 deceased — Salauddin, Bablu, Khalek, Rayhan, Imran, Jinarul, Alam, Sujon, Jahangir, and Faisal — were handed over to their families.

The rest will be handed over after autopsies.

The fire broke out at Prime Plate and Plastic Industries Ltd factory in Chalkutia of Keraniganj around 4:30pm and 10 firefighting units doused the fire around 6:10pm on Wednesday. 

The deadly fire — sparked by a gas cylinder explosion — at the factory in Keraniganj had started on Wednesday afternoon, killing worker Mahbub on the spot and injuring at least 34 others.

Dr Samanta Lal Sen, chief coordinator of the burn unit, told reporters that all the injured were in critical condition. Many of them suffered burns in their respiratory organs.

DMCH Director Brig Gen AKM Nasir Uddin said that they had received 32 burn victims including one dead on Wednesday evening. “Most of the victims suffered 40-100% burns.”

“Ten of the victims are currently on life support at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in Sheikh Hasina National Burn and Plastic Surgery Institute, and eight others are admitted in the High Dependency Unit (HDU) at the DMCH burn unit,” he said.

Disaster Management and Relief Ministry’s Keraniganj Project Implementation Officer Md Shahidul Islam said Tk14 lakh was allocated to provide financial aid to the victims.

“We are also providing all kinds of support to ensure their proper treatment,” he added.

The Labour and Employment Ministry also announced to provide Tk1 lakh to families of each deceased and Tk50,000 to each injured.

Meanwhile, deceased Alam’s family on Thursday filed a murder case against the factory owner and 10 others at South Keraniganj police station over the deadly fire.

Another case of negligence

Both Fire Service and the Labour and Employment Ministry have formed two separate probe committees to investigate the reasons behind the fire.

The ministry’s probe body was also asked to identify the risk factors in plastic factories of Keraniganj and recommend remedies.

The Prime Plate and Plastic Industries Ltd factory in Keraniganj had caught fire several times over the past few years — the recent one in February this year.

They previous fires were smaller than Wednesday’s one, but authorities concerned are seeing it a clear example of negligence on the part of the owner, Nazrul Islam.

The Labour Ministry had fined the factory for non-compliance following an inspection on November 5, said the ministry’s Secretary KM Ali Azam. A case was also filed in this connection, he added.

Owner Nazrul was unavailable for comment.

Factory workers, their families and locals claimed that the workers had doused the flames on their own in the previous instances, but they failed this time.

They also said that the factory has a single entry gate and the fire caused the high number of casualties as it had broken out near the gate. Workers suffered severe burns while storming out through the gate.

“The factory’s owner and administration showed negligence,” Fire Service Deputy Director Abul Hossain told reporters at the scene after a visit on Thursday.

“Even though the factory had 20 to 25 fire extinguishers and water supply system, no one knew how to use them.”

Abul added: “Besides, the factory did not have multiple exits, which led to the high number of casualties.”

Meanwhile, after visiting the victims at DMCH, local MP and State Minister for Power Nasrul Hamid told reporters that the factory, which produced onetime plastic glasses and cups, was operating without any government approval.

Such factories are not allowed to operate in residential areas in line with a government order.