POLITICS

Bangladeshi leader says a shopping mall that caught fire had no emergency exits. Death toll climbs

Mar 1, 2024, 2:02 AM | Updated: 6:36 am

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A six-story shopping mall that caught fire in the Bangladeshi capital had no fire exits, the country’s prime minister said Friday, as the death toll climbed to at least 46 and rescuers searched for more victims.

The fire started late Thursday in a restaurant on the first floor of the Green Cozy Cottage Shopping Mall in downtown Dhaka. More than a dozen firefighting units were deployed.

Firefighters rescued survivors and pulled out bodies, and by early Friday, at least 43 people were confirmed dead. Three injured people died later, said Health Minister Samanta Lal Sen. He said the toll could rise as at least a dozen critically injured people were being treated in two state-run hospitals.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed her shock at the loss of lives and said that it was a result of negligence. “What could be more painful than this?” she said, speaking at an unrelated event in Dhaka.

“We always request our architects, at least when they design homes or buildings, (to) keep a small open balcony, a fire exit or ventilation. But architects … will not design that properly and also the owners do not want to leave an inch of space,” she said.

Other violations were also reported. The Capital Development Authority, the official regulator, said the building was not permitted to open restaurants but it had at least eight food shops.

One survivor said people escaped by heading to the building’s roof.

“I knew about the fire when it was at the first floor. We moved to the roof of the building. Around 30 people were there. After the fire was under control, fire service personnel broke into one side of the roof and rescued us,” Mohammed Siam said.

Forty-one victims have been identified and 38 of the bodies have been handed to their families, said Bacchu Mia, who is in charge of a police outpost at Dhaka Medical College Hospital.

“Overnight many families waited here for their loved ones. It’s a heartbreaking scene as they desperately looked for their family members who died in the tragedy,” Mia said.

Five members of one family were among the dead, while the toll also included students, teachers and two reporters. The fire broke out at the beginning of the country’s weekend and many people were dining.

A fire department team entered the charred building Friday morning to see if there were more bodies, and forensic experts began looking for evidence.

The cause of the fire has not been determined. But the fire service department said the building owner was served at least three times with notice to correct the building’s fire extinguishing system.

Bangladesh has a history of such fires in commercial buildings in Dhaka and outside. Experts say lax monitoring and violation of building codes by construction companies and owners have proved deadly.

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Bangladeshi leader says a shopping mall that caught fire had no emergency exits. Death toll climbs