'Only two ways to escape'
Exhausted and terrified, Saifur Rahman, employee of Amraa network office on the 17th floor of the 22-storey Faruk Rupayan Tower in the capital's Kamal Ataturk Avenue, sat on the pavement near the building.
Although he escaped the fire that broke out on the 6th floor of the building yesterday around 12:30pm, he was trying to figure out if his colleagues and friends had made it out alive.
“We heard people screaming and saw smoke coming up through the staircase,” he said.
Saifur and some of his colleagues ran towards the rooftop as it was impossible to go down through the stairs. After reaching the rooftop, they jumped to the neighbouring building, Awal Tower.
“Just within 10 minutes, the smoke spread throughout the whole building. I helped around 50 people go to the next building. But a little later, it was impossible to stay there because of the smoke. I had to leave,” he said.
Saifur saw some people fall to the ground. “Too late to make it to the rooftop for an easier escape, they tried to get out from the windows of the building.”
He said people used two ways to escape -- some tried to go to the rooftop while some others broke the windows and glass walls to get to Awal Tower.
“Till 1:00pm, people were able to make it to the rooftop. But after that, the staircase had become too smoky for people to make it through,” he said, adding, “I saw four people jumping down after breaking the glass wall.”
He said there were 65 employees on their floor but he could not immediately say how many of them were able to come out of the building.
People working on the lower floors were also not able to make it to the roof, he said.
As the firefighters were not being able to rescue those trapped inside for a long period of time, many of them were seen trying to climb down holding telephone or satellite television cables and the grille of the building. Some people fell to their deaths during the attempt.
Another survivor, Emran Hossain, a worker of a commercial office on the 12nd floor of the building, was seen going to the next building after breaking a glass wall and climbing down.
“I don't know how the fire broke out. It was not possible to see anything as there was a dark wall of smoke everywhere,” said Emran.
Most of the women employees were stuck inside and waiting to be rescued.
Aparajita Barua is a worker in the DIRD group office, a global conglomerate of garment, textile, engineering, software and agriculture companies, situated on the 12th floor.
Her mother came to the scene to look for her around 3:30pm when firefighters began rescuing people from the building using crane ladders.
“I spoke to my daughter over the phone a while ago. She was stuck on the 12th floor and she said it was hard to breathe because of the smoke,” she said.
Until 10:00pm yesterday, it was still unknown whether Aparajita made it out alive.
Atiqur Rahman, who had been working in the building for last 15 years, called his wife around 1:30pm just to say goodbye. "I may not live. Please forgive me."
“Smoke everywhere. I can't see anything. I'm suffocating," these were his last words, said Atiqur's cousin Abu Alam, quoting the deceased wife Poly Begum.
Seven bodies including Atiqur's were kept at the Dhaka Medical College morgue.
The dead are Amir Hossain Rabbi, 29, Sheikh Jabin Tasnim Bristi, 27, Anjir Abir Siddiqui, 26, Fazle Rabbi, 27, and Monjurul Hasan, 45. The Daily Star could not get identification of another body.
Of the dead, Anjir was an executive trader of Micro Security Ltd.
His colleague Mizanur Rahman said about 28 people were at the office on the 15th floor of the building at that time.
“Everything was going normal. Suddenly we saw fire," he said.
All but Anjir went to the rooftop and left to next building," said Mizan adding Anjir called them around 1:30pm.
"He told that he was stranded on the 10th floor,” said Mizan.
Another dead Monjurul, a physically challenged person, was an accounts officer at Kashem Industries Ltd on the 20th floor.
His colleague Sumon Karmakar went to morgue last night.
Sumon said, there were 60 employees and staffs in the office at the time of the fire. “Of them, 58 escaped the fire through rooftop."
Shejiti Daulah, finance director of DIRD Group, who managed to survive narrowly from the fire incident, said she was on the 13th floor of the FR Tower during the fire and one of their staff informed her about the fire.
“We could not proceed while trying to get down due to smoke. We then went to the roof covering our faces and jumped to adjoining under-construction building -- Awal Tower -- through a window as the building had no window glass,” she said.
They then came down through stairs of the building, said Shejti, adding that they had their offices at five floors of the building.
“We heard that short circuit on the seventh floor might be the reasons of the fire,” she said.