Explosion at Bangladesh port depot kills dozens, injures hundreds

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Explosion at Bangladesh port depot kills dozens, injures hundreds A firefighter tries to contain a blaze at the B.M. Container Depot in Chittagong, Bangladesh, June 5, 2022.

A Saturday night explosion at a container depot near Bangladesh’s Chittagong port killed dozens of people including firefighters and injured hundreds more, officials and witnesses at the scene said Sunday.

At least 25 firefighting units were called in to battle the blaze at the B.M. Container Depot in the Sitakunda sub-district of Chittagong, according to fire service and civil defense department officials under the Ministry of Home Affairs. 

The cause of the blast – felt miles away – was not yet known, but hydrogen peroxide was stored at the facility where the explosion took place, officials said. Late on Sunday, firefighters were still battling the remnants of the massive fire.

“So far 49 people including eight firefighters were confirmed to have died in the fire incident. At least 200 more people have been admitted at different hospitals,” Dr. Md. Elias Chowdhury, the chief of Chittagong district health department, told BenarNews. He expects the death toll to rise.

“We have been trying to ensure proper treatment of the injured persons,” he said, adding, “Many of the corpses were torn apart.”

Rescuers carry a survivor of the Saturday night explosion at the B.M. Container Depot in southwestern Bangladesh, June 5, 2022. [BenarNews]

Md. Mominur Rahman, the Chittagong district chief administrator, told BenarNews that the explosion occurred at about 9:30 p.m. Saturday.

The B.M. depot is one of 19 private container yards near the Chittagong port, which handles about 98 percent of the container ships arriving in Bangladesh each year. Port officials said about 200 people worked in the depot.

Chittagong resident Abdul Karim said he traveled to the depot in search of his younger brother, Md. Monir, who was working there. 

“Monir talked to his wife, who is expecting, last night before the fire. I went to the Chittagong Medical hospital and other hospitals but could not find him,” Karim told BenarNews before breaking down. 

Khodeza Kabir, a resident of the Kumira Union neighborhood in Sitakunda, said she and others could hear the explosion about 7 km (4.3 miles) away. 

“Primarily we thought it was an earthquake because the ground was shaking. We learned that the explosion occurred at the container depot,” she told BenarNews.

Mujibur Rahman, director of the BM container depot, a Netherlands-Bangladesh joint venture, said the cause of the blast had not been determined.

A victim of the explosion is carried from the depot in the Sitakunda sub-district of Chittagong, June 5, 2022. [BenarNews]

“Our company will bear all expenses of the injured persons. We will also provide compensation for the victims,” Rahman told BenarNews.

Chittagong district authorities announced the formation of a seven-member team while the fire service and civil defense have formed their own seven-member team to determine the cause of the blast.

“The government formed committees to find out what sorts of explosives were at the container depot. But what have primarily come to know is that hydrogen peroxide was stored there,” Nayeb Ali, the Bangladesh Department of Explosives chief inspector, told BenarNews. 

Burned clothing and plastic debris litter the ground at the depot, June 5, 2022. [BenarNews]

Condolences from Hasina

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina offered condolences and called on authorities to promptly treat those injured in the fire, state news agency Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) reported.

“In a message of condolence, she prayed for eternal peace of the departed souls and conveyed deep sympathy to the bereaved family members,” BSS said.

In a Facebook post, the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka also offered condolences to those affected by the fire.

Smoke rises from the B.M. Container Depot following an explosion and massive fire, June 5, 2022. [Reuters]

Meanwhile, a member of parliament called for an investigation to determine if anyone is responsible.

“Why were the chemicals stored with ordinary commodities? The chemicals should have been stored in a safe place. Who will take responsibility for the devastating fire,” MP Harunur Rashid said.

Bangladesh has seen devastating incidents over the years including the June 2010 chemical warehouse explosion in old Dhaka that killed 117 people.

More recently, at least 52 died after a fire ripped through a juice factory southeast of Dhaka in July 2021 and at least seven died when a gas pipeline exploded in November 2019 in Chittagong.

Abdur Rahman in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, contributed to this report.

A firefighter watches as flames shoot out from the B.M. Container Depot about 24 hours after the explosion, June 5, 2022. [BenarNews]



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