Bangladesh fire: 40 killed, hundreds injured in depot blast

A fire and a huge explosion have killed at least 40 people and injured hundreds more at a storage depot near the city of Chittagong, Bangladesh.

Hundreds of people had arrived to tackle the fire when a number of shipping containers exploded at the site in Sitakunda.

It is thought that chemicals were stored in some of the containers.

Industrial fires are common in Bangladesh, and are often blamed on poor safety regulations.

Many of the injured are said to be in a critical condition and the number of people killed is expected to rise.

Hospitals in the area are overwhelmed and have appealed for blood donations.

The fire broke out at around 21:00 local time (15:00 GMT) on Saturday and hundreds of firefighters, police and volunteers quickly arrived on the scene.

As they tried to extinguish the blaze a huge explosion rocked the site, engulfing many of the rescuers in flames and throwing debris and people into the air.

“The explosion just threw me some 10 metres from where I was standing. My hands and legs are burnt,” lorry driver Tofael Ahmed told AFP news agency.

Volunteers, some wearing only sandals on their feet, continued to bring bodies from the smouldering wreckage on Sunday morning.

At least five firefighters were killed in the blast and several more were injured. Many people are still missing, including several journalists who were reporting on the fire before the explosion.

The blast was so large it was heard several kilometres away and shattered the windows of nearby buildings. One local shopkeeper told reporters that a piece of debris had flown half a kilometre and landed in his pond. He described seeing “fireballs falling like rain” after the explosion.

Many people in Bangladesh are comparing the explosion to the huge blast that hit Beirut in 2020, says the BBC’s Akbar Hossain in the capital, Dhaka. He says people have reported hearing the blast from 30-40km (19-25 miles) away.

Pictures of the aftermath show the twisted remains of metal shipping containers and the collapsed roof of a warehouse. A local journalist told the BBC that there was a pungent odour in the air.

Firefighters were still struggling to put out the fire on Sunday, with continued explosions making it more difficult, according to fire officials.

The army has deployed sandbags to prevent chemicals flowing into the Indian Ocean.

Sitakunda is only 40km (25 miles) from Chittagong, and one of the city’s hospitals has been inundated with victims. Military clinics are helping to treat the injured.