Dhaka Fire: The face of horror
12:00 AM, February 22, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:09 AM, February 22, 2019

The face of horror

In many major tragedies, the victims are reduced to mere numbers, statistics to gauge the severity of a disaster. But each of these numbers has an important story to tell, one that serves as a reminder of what has passed and why it should never have been allowed.

10:15PM, WEDNESDAY: I COULDN'T TAKE HIM HOME

Around 10:15pm on Wednesday, Dipu pulled down the shutters on his family-owned small hosiery shop in the city's Chawkbazar. He then closed the day's accounts with his two brothers Mohammad Ali and Opu, both in their early 30s.

With them was also Ali's son, three-year-old Arafat. An hour earlier, Dipu's parents had come to the shop with Arafat after buying medicines from a nearby shop. They left but Arafat stayed back to accompany his father.

By 10:00pm, the normal chaos around the area had subsided, except for the few vehicles honking their horns in the traffic of the night.

After shutting up the shop, the four began walking home together. Dipu was 50 steps ahead of them, as he had someone to meet.

"Suddenly, I heard a loud bang. As I looked back, I saw huge flames engulfing everything behind me. I couldn't get closer to them," Dipu told The Daily Star.

"Arafat was playing with a ball inside the shop. I asked him to kiss me and he gave me a big kiss. But I couldn't take him [Arafat] home."

The fire at Old Dhaka's market hub Chawkbazar killed Mohammad Ali, Opu and Arafat.

Dipu and his family members identified them at Dhaka Medical College Hospital yesterday morning.

10:30PM, WEDNESDAY: I COULD HAVE SAVED HIM

Saiful Islam, a businessman involved in making shoes, was having a usual chat with his friend Mosharrof Hossain as their rickshaw got stuck in Churihatta intersection.

They were returning to their home in a nearby area.

"Suddenly I heard a huge explosion and fell down on the road," he said.

Within moments, he saw the fire from a nearby building eating its way towards them, making strange crackling noises and emitting an unbearable heat. Different objects shot out as if from nowhere and started raining down on vehicles and commuters.

"I could manage to stand up and run to safety in a nearby alley. But my friend couldn't,” said Saiful.

Saiful Islam remains haunted by the guilt of not saving his friend from the fire which broke out near Churihatta intersection in Chawkbazar. The massive inferno caught him off-guard.

"I feel guilty thinking that I could have saved my friend if I had rescued him and admitted him to a hospital,” a sobbing Saiful said.

"But the massive fire, the burning vehicles, took away my sense. I ran for my life."

"We have been friends for 25 years. But I could not do anything...," Saiful said and broke off mid-sentence.

With minor injuries in his head and legs, he came to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital.

"I saw my friend at the hospital. But he is dead.”

12:03PM, THURSDAY: WHERE IS MY FATHER?

Holding her father's photo, Nasrin Akhter cried near the yellow crime scene tape, just beside Chawkbazar's Haji Wahed Mansion.

She had looked for her father Jainal Abedin Bablu in every possible place after the ghastly fire. But nothing could be found.

"My father left home around 10:00pm after getting a call from his friend who invited him for a cup of tea at Haji Ballu road. But he was not reachable since an explosion took place near Wahed Mansion,” said the sobbing daughter.

"Where is my father? Did you find him…," Nasrin asked, showing the photo to the fire fighters and other rescuers. But none could give her a hint.

Hailing from the Old Dhaka, Bablu had been living at their house in Asgar Lane with his two sons and a daughter.

Nasrin's aunt, Shirin Akhter who also came with her, said that they looked for Bablu at Dhaka Medical College Hospital and Sir Salimullah Medical College. But not a trace of him was to be found.

The family suspected Bablu might have gotten trapped inside the fire in front of Wahed Mansion on his way to Haji Ballu road.

According to witnesses, many people were killed on the road in front of Wahed Mansion, where vehicles were stuck in traffic jam and the victims could not escape the fire.

Nasrin said they went to Mugda General Hospital in the evening, but still there was no news of her father.

12:30PM, THURSDAY: BURY ME WITH MY SONS

Md Shahabullah, around 70, stood shell shocked. He was coming to grips with the fact that the lives of his two sons had been cut short in such a way.

His sons Masud Rana, 35, and Mahbubur Rahman Raju, 28, used to run a telecom shop on the ground floor of Haji Wahed Mansion for more than a decade.

Yesterday, firemen recovered their bodies from the very same shop.

Surrounded by relatives at the floor of their living room, Shahabullah cried intermittently.

“Bury me with my sons,” he kept saying.

Rana had a four-year-old boy Mohammad while Raju got married about a year ago.

Shahabullah's brother-in-law Mohammad Barkatullah said both brothers were in the shop during the incident.

“When we first heard about the fire, we rushed to the spot but could not reach the shop due to the fire's intensity,” he said.

“We tried repeatedly to contact them over phone. The phone rang but no one picked up. After 12:02am, the phone was found switched off.”

Raju's father-in-law Munir Ahmed identified the brothers' body at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital morgue.

1:30PM, THURSDAY: WHAT DO I TELL MY NIECE...?

Amidst the eerie wails ringing through the halls of Dhaka Medical College Hospital, a man stood holding a picture. He kept asking passers-by if they had seen the man in the picture.

Around 50 years of age with the folds of his skin just beginning to appear, Abdus Salam Azad was fighting to hold back his tears as he paced restlessly, moving from the hospital's emergency to the morgue and back again.

The picture he was holding was that of his younger brother Billal Hossain, 44, who had been missing since Wednesday night after the ghastly fire broke out near Churihatta intersection in Chawkbazar.

Billal, who hails from Shariatpur, lived with his family in Shahidnagar in the capital. Coming from a struggling working-class family, he was employed as a tailor for a decorator, which had its offices right next to where the disaster struck.

Azad arrived at the hospital upon hearing that the owner of the decorator and another employee there had died in the fire, but he could not get any trace of his younger brother.

"I searched everywhere, but did not find my brother," he told The Daily Star. He talked to police, media personnel and the locals of the area, but to no avail.

Post midday, he was still looking for an answer to convey to the family. He was wondering how to tell Billal's eight-year-old daughter of whether her father was alive or dead.

Finally, Azad found the body of his brother in the afternoon.

"What do I tell my niece when she asks about her father?"

1:45PM, THURSDAY: I WILL RECOGNISE MY SON IN THE CHARRED REMAINS.

"My son's body is kept with other charred remains. They are not allowing me to check. Please, give me a chance; I will recognise my son in the charred remains," Rubina Yeasmin appealed to the people around her in front of Dhaka Medical College morgue yesterday.

"They told me that my son is missing but I know where my son is. He is inside the chars,” she kept saying to her relatives before they led her away. Her son's picture remained clutched firmly in her hand.

Her son Rohan Khan, a third semester BBA student of North South University, and his friend Md Arafat, were passing through Chawkbazar area on a motorbike at the time the fire broke out.

"They were stuck in traffic when the fire broke out. They died on the spot," said Mamun Ahmed, a cousin of Rohan, who lived with his parents in Agamasi Lane in the capital's Old Dhaka.

In the days leading up to his death, Rohan was busy with his sister's wedding, scheduled to be held next month.

He went to the area to talk with a decorator and see the venue for the marriage ceremony.

"Now everything is finished," said Mamun.

The family were yet to find any trace of Rohan's body till yesterday evening.

[Wasim Bin Habib, Tuhin Shubhra Adhikary, Rashidul Hasan, Muntakim Saad, Mohammad Jamil Khan, Rafiul Islam and Shaheen Mollah contributed to this report.]

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