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Container depot explosion kills at least 49, injures hundreds in Bangladesh

07 June 2022

A fire and subsequent explosion at a shipping container depot near Chittagong, Bangladesh killed at least 49 people and injured over 300 more on June 4. Many of those killed and injured had arrived at the depot to help extinguish a blaze that had erupted before several containers storing chemicals exploded.

Representative image: Shutterstock
Representative image: Shutterstock

The incident began at around 21:00 local time when firefighters, police, and local volunteers were called to the BM Inland Container Depot in the town of Sitakunda following reports of a fire. Some of those responding to the incident, including emergency services, were only wearing flip-flops and casual clothes whilst battling the fire. As hundreds of people attempted to stop the fire from spreading, several shipping containers exploded, engulfing people in flames and sending debris flying across the site.

Many of the injured remained in critical conditions several days after the incident with the death toll likely to rise further.

Hundreds of people were rushed to nearby hospitals which quickly became overwhelmed resulting in many patients receiving treatment in corridors and even outside. According to news outlets, at least five firefighters were killed with many more seriously injured. Several journalists reporting on the initial fire are also believed to have been killed in addition to dozens of local volunteers helping to fight the blaze.

The explosion was heard miles away with windows in local buildings being shattered by the blast waves. Footage from the scene following the blast was reminiscent of the 2020 Beirut explosion.

Firefighters continued to battle the fire into June 5 with further explosions making it difficult, local officials said. The army and local volunteers positioned sandbags around the site to prevent chemicals from spilling into the Indian Ocean.

The cause of the initial fire is unknown, however fire officials have said they suspect it may have originated in a container of hydrogen peroxide before it spread to several surrounding containers. Two separate committees – a fire services committee and an industrial safety regulator committee – have been organised to investigate the cause of the fire.

Industrial safety incidents are common in Bangladesh due to poor enforcement of safety regulations. The container depot stores around 4,000 containers and acts as a storage point for containers travelling onto Chittagong, Bangladesh's main sea port, which is located around 25 mils (40km) away.

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