The fire broke out at the BM Container Depot in the Kadmarsul area around 9:30 pm on Saturday.
Chattogram Fire Service personnel struggled to bring the fire under control and reinforcements were called in from Feni, Noakhali and Cumilla at around 3:30 am.
As of 2 pm on Sunday, 41 bodies were recovered and brought to the Chattogram Medical College Hospital morgue, according to ASI Alauddin Talukder of the hospital’s police outpost.
Thirteen of the dead have been identified. Five of the dead are fire service personnel.
They are Moniruzzaman, 32, Mominul Haque, 24, Md Mohiuddin, 22, Habibur Rahman, 26, Rabiul Alam, 19, Tofayel Ahmed, 22, Alauddin, 35, Md Sumon, 28, Md Ibrahim, 27, Md Shakil, 22, Nipon Chakma, 45, Rana Miah, 22, and Afzal Hossain, 20.
Anisur Rahman, deputy director of Chattogram divisional fire service, said on Sunday morning that although the fire was brought under control, it spread again due to repeated explosions.
Those who arrived at the Chittagong Medical College Hospital for treatment said that poisonous gas was spreading along with smoke after the blasts.
Of the dead, Mohiuddin died at the Park View Hospital while receiving treatment.
Fifteen burnt and injured fire service personnel are being treated at different hospitals, including Chattogram Medical College Hospital. Shahjahan said that two more workers could not be traced.
RAB-7 chief Md Yusuf said, “We tried to rescue those trapped inside the depot. We have been able to rescue many people.”
At least 11 policemen were burnt and injured in the fire. Two of them have been sent to Dhaka for better treatment.
Patients have also been taken to various private hospitals in the city. Chattogram Civil Surgeon Dr Mohammed Elias Chowdhury urged the city's doctors to come forward to serve the injured.
Chattogram Divisional Commissioner Ashraf Uddin came to the depot in the morning and said the district administration would pay Tk 50,000 to each of the families of the dead and Tk 20,000 to each of the injured. A probe committee will be formed quickly with the representatives of all departments, he said.
"The army has arrived. A fire broke out last night and it is still burning. There is a drain in the depot, which leads to a canal. The canal is connected to the sea. The army is working to prevent the chemicals from entering the sea.”
Lt Col Munira Sultana said, "Our main task now is to protect the sea from chemicals. We are working towards that goal. But it is not yet known how many containers contained chemicals.”
Port Chairman Rear Admiral M Shahjahan said, "We can't find those managing the depot. They will be able to guide the fire service. Only then will it be possible to put out the fire. I urge them to come here as soon as possible.”
“All export products arrive here. The products may contain chemicals. The fire service said that there were 26 chemical containers. I went inside the depot and saw equipment, but no people.”
Fire Service Director General Main Uddin said that 25 units of the fire service in Chattogram, Khagrachhari, Cumilla and Feni were working to douse the fire. An army team has also joined the firefighting and rescue efforts.
"I found hydrogen peroxide written on some of the drums here. A team of experts from the army has arrived. We couldn’t locate the owners. We don't know about the placements of the various types of containers.”
Nazmul Akhtar Khan, general manager of sales and marketing at the BM Depot, said that the depot is spread over 24 acres of land. There were about 4,300 containers, of which 3,000 were empty. As many as 450 containers were for import purposes and 800 for export. The chemical containers are stored separately. It is not known how many chemical containers were there.
“I urge the government to conduct a full investigation. Export materials mainly consisted of clothing and food products. The fire can spread if a clothing container catches fire. That's what has happened.”
Nazmul, general manager of sales and marketing at the BM Depot, arrived at the scene later in the day, around 11 am.
“We will confirm the cause of the fire after an investigation,” he told the media after his arrival. “It could have been sabotage. Only a proper investigation can reveal the truth.”
Ashraful Alam Khan Swapon, the depot’s C&F Agent Association customs affairs secretary, was accompanying Nazmul.
“The depot was storing goods amounting to Tk 10 billion. Hundreds of containers were burnt. There were many workers on the night shift. It is a major blow to the country. Most of the goods here are for export.”
Local journalist Mizanur Rahman Yusuf said the explosion was heard from as far as three kilometres away.
Initial reports suggested the fire had originated from chemicals, said Nurul Alam Dulal, senior station officer at Kumria Fire Station.
7 FIRE SERVICE PERSONNEL CONFIRMED DEAD
The fire service will take a while to bring the blaze under control due to a series of explosions and because the depot has over 50,000 containers, Fire Service Deputy Director Md Dulal Miah said.
He said that a 14-member team of chemical explosion experts are on their way to Sitakunda with the necessary equipment, he said.
At 12:15 pm, Dulal said that seven fire service personnel are confirmed dead, adding that 14 others have remained missing during efforts to bring the flames under control.
A total of 25 units of the Fire Service and Civil Defence have been working there. They could not immediately identify the chemical materials the containers contained.
“We are fighting the fire with all our might,” Dulal added.