Julekha Khanam Farzana told her younger son Atifur Rahman that she would come back to pick him up from school after dropping his elder brother at tutor’s house in Chattogram city’s Patharghata area.
Standing next to Farzana, her elder son Atikur Rahman waved goodbye to his brother. None of them knew it was the last time they would see each other.
Both Farzana, 30, and Atikur, 8, were crushed to death under rubble on the way to the tutor’s house as concrete walls fell on them following a massive explosion of a gas pipeline at a house on Patharghata Brickfield Road yesterday morning.
Apart from them, five others were killed and at least 15 wounded. All the dead were pedestrians.
The explosion took place on the ground floor of a five-storey building owned by Dharmapal Barua on the Brickfield Road around 8:40am.
Fire service officials and explosives experts said a leak in gas pipeline at the building caused the explosion that led to the collapse of the house’s front wall and its boundary wall.
Three roadside shops and two buildings nearby were damaged in the blast. Fire fighters made the residents of the five-storey building vacate it, saying it was risky to stay there.
Chattogram Development Authority (CDA) officials said a gas pipeline riser was installed inside the house in violation of the building code. And this led to the accident.
Of the other five dead, four were identified as Anny Barua, 38, head teacher of a school; Nurul Islam, 30, a day labourer; Shukkur, 40, a rickshaw puller; and Md Selim, 40, a rickshaw-van puller.
The injured are receiving treatment at Chattogram Medical College Hospital.
Anny was the head teacher of Meherati Government Primary School in Patiya upazila. She lived on the sixth floor of a building around 200 yards from the scene.
Her uncle Mridul Barua said, “Anny had PSC exam duty at the school … She used to use another road to go to the school every day, but today she took the Brickfield Road to pick up one of her colleagues and met the tragic end.
“She left behind her two school-going sons and husband Polash Kanti Barua, an engineer of Power Development Board in Chattogram.”
Purna Chandra Mutsuddi, deputy assistant director (DAD) at Chattogram Fire Service and Civil Defence Headquarters, said, “During primary inspection, it was found that the blast was caused by a leak in the gas pipeline riser.
“Gas leaked through the riser, and the two-room house got filled with gas at night. In the morning, it exploded when someone lit a fire,” the official told The Daily Star.
Arpita Debnath, a ninth grader, and her aunt Sandhya Rani Das, who live in the two-room house, were injured in the blast
“My aunt woke up in the morning. She might have lit a fire to offer prayers, resulting in the explosion…. Something hit me and I became unconscious.”
Arpita’s parents were away when the incident took place.
Fire service officials said that on impact, sidewalls of the building’s ground floor gave way.
Witnesses said two rickshaws carrying passengers and pedestrians were hit by flying debris after the explosion.
Manjur Hossen, owner of a small shop opposite the building, said, “I was inside my shop. I heard a loud bang and suddenly chunks of bricks fell on my shop.”
“Labourer Nurul, who was standing in front of my shop, was hit by flying debris.”
BREACH OF BUILDING CODE
Officials of Chattogram Development Authority (CDA) and Chattogram City Corporation (CCC) visited the spot.
Shahinul Islam, chairman of CDA’s Building Authorisation Committee, said, “The building was built violating the CDA building code… The gas riser was installed inside the house, which is also a violation of the code.
“Even a septic tank was built right under the house where the accident occurred… The owner of the building built the boundary wall, grabbing part of the road.
“The area is densely populated and has old buildings… According to the masterplan, the road in the area should be 40-feet wide. But we have found it 20-feet wide as most of the land owners built buildings grabbing parts of the road,” he added.
Chattogram district administration formed a five-member probe committee headed by Additional District Magistrate AZM Shariful Hassan.
Elius Hossain, deputy commissioner in Chattogram, told The Daily Star, “The committee has been asked to submit its report in seven working days.”
“The families of the deceased were given Tk 20,000 each. The district administration and the Chattogram City Corporation will jointly bear the treatment costs of the injured.”
Fire fighters and explosives experts said the blast occurred due to a leak in gas pipe riser, but Karnaphuli Gas Distribution Company Ltd (KGDCL) officials refuted it.
The four-member committee, formed by the gas company, submitted its report yesterday after probing the incident.
KGDCL General Manager (Engineering) Sarwar Hossain, who headed the committee,
said, “We examined the pipe line and the gas riser. We didn’t find any leak during inspection…. the gas riser and the pipeline were intact …
“Usually gas explosion causes fire but we did not see any sign of fire in the house.
“We submitted our report mentioning that there was no leak in the gas pipeline,” he told The Daily Star.
However, Md Tofazzal Hossain, inspector of the Department of Explosives, told reporters, “We found that the riser and the gas pipeline were very old. Gas leaked from there and turned the entire house into a gas chamber.”
“The blast occurred as the dwellers of the house lit a fire to offer prayers in the morning,” said the explosives expert after inspecting the scene.
Akhtarul Islam, deputy director of Chittagong Medical College Hospital, said, “The seven were killed as walls collapsed on them.
“Only Arpita suffered burns. She was sent to the capital for better treatment as she had 30 percent burns,” added the physician.