Still highly flammable | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 20, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 07:01 PM, February 20, 2021

Still highly flammable

Two years after Chawkbazar tragedy, Old Dhaka not free from chemical warehouses, stores

The buildings that caught fire two years back at Chawkbazar's Churihatta have been renovated, but survivors are still reeling from the horrors of that deadly night.

On February 20, 2019, a huge explosion ripped through Churihatta intersection, causing a massive inferno that engulfed three surrounding multi-storey buildings. The tragic incident left 67 people dead on the spot and injured more than 20.

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Over the next 11 days, four more victims succumbed to their burns.

The inferno forced the government to take a flurry of measures like sealing off and removing chemical warehouses in the area. Another major plan was to relocate chemical stores from the densely-populated neighbourhood to somewhere safe.

Still, Old Dhaka houses extremely hazardous stocks of flammable chemicals and risky factories without any safety measures whatsoever, putting lives of hundreds of people at serious risk of fires.

The government is still working on relocating chemical warehouses and factories from residential areas to a chemical industrial park, a move that began around 10 years ago following the Nimtoli blaze.

Shifting these establishments was one of the recommendations by the home ministry's committee formed after the Nimtoli tragedy. But the government could not complete it, due to problems in land acquisition and bureaucratic complexities, according to authorities concerned.

Javed Hossain, nephew of the owner of Mannan Store, a shop just opposite Hazi Wahed Mansion, which had caught fire, said, "I could save my life by jumping off a wall."

He said they faced damage of Tk 5-6 lakh at that time and still could not overcome the losses. "We're yet to get compensated for our losses," he added.

Ashraf Uddin Shadhin, president of Ekota Sangha, said their area is not free from chemicals yet and they want to get rid of them.

Hazi Wahed Mansion has been renovated, but shops at the building are yet to become operational. However, the shops at some other affected buildings have already started their business.

Initially, after the news of the inferno spread, people mistakenly assumed that a cylinder blast at Rajmahal Hotel and Restaurant had caused the fire. Footage from Rajmahal's closed-circuit camera later helped reveal that the fire broke out at the adjacent five-storey Hazi Wahed Mansion.

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