‘Get us out of here. Please help!’
"Get us out of here. Please help!"
These were the last words Liton heard from his sister-in-law Jahanara Begum when he called her on Thursday evening.
He also heard others' desperate screams for help on the phone.
Jahanara, a worker of the food factory which caught fire in Narayanganj's Rupganj, is among those missing and feared dead in the incident. Liton called her after hearing the news of the fire.
"After I heard the news around 6:00pm, I called Bhabi [Jahanara] immediately. She told me that some 47 people were on the third floor. The supervisor asked them to stay there saying the place was safe and that firemen would douse the flames soon," Liton, who went to the Dhaka Medical College morgue yesterday to find Jahanara and another relative named Fakima Begum, told The Daily Star.
"As I called her the second time, she said there were plumes of smoke on the floor and that they were having difficulties in breathing. At one point, the call got disconnected," he said.
Liton then frantically kept calling her for 20 minutes, but no one answered. By that time, he sensed something terrible and ominous had happened.
Jahanara's husband Khokon Mia was crying inconsolably inside the DMC morgue. "What will happen to my sons now?" asked the man, who sells food on the streets of Rupganj.
Forty-nine bodies, charred beyond recognition, were recovered from the factory and taken to the morgue yesterday. A CID team was taking samples from desperate family members for identification of the bodies.
Jahanara and her nephew's wife Fakima are both in their mid-30s. They joined Hashem Foods and Beverage Ltd three years ago. They used to work on the third floor where chocolates were packaged. The floor had two doors and several windows. But the windows were closed because the floor had air conditioning.
As the fire raged on, those trapped inside could neither get to the roof nor to the ground floor as the staircase landing was engulfed in flames, according to fire service officials.
Mahbubur Rahman, supervisor of the third floor, was also there with the workers. A worker of the floor, Md Rubel, who was not on duty, spoke to him over the phone.
"When I talked to him the last time he told me that he was feeling suffocated because of a lack of oxygen," Rubel told this newspaper.
He further said there was a fire incident in the factory a week ago and it was doused quickly.
"He [Mahbubur] told me that he thought that the fire would be brought under control soon and that's why they stayed in the room," Rubel said.
Mina Khatun, 40, and her daughter Champa Akter, 18, also worked in the factory. Champa, who worked on the second floor, survived by sheer luck but there was no trace of her mother, who worked on the third floor.
Minutes before the fire broke out, Champa went down to the card section room on the ground floor with a co-worker, who was having problems with her ID card.
"A few moments later I saw a huge plume of smoke billowing out of the ground floor with people walking down the stairs screaming. We got out of the factory gate," she said.
Right at the moment, she thought about her mother. "I phoned her several times, but she did not pick up," said Champa outside the morgue.
"After having our breakfast, we left for the factory together around 7:30am [on Thursday]. We often met during lunch time. Why didn't I take her with me this time?" she cried.
Thirteen-year-old Md Hasnain was another of those missing.
A fourth-grader from Char Fashion of Bhola, Hasnain started working at the factory around a month ago to help his poor family as his school is closed due to the pandemic, said his sister Tania Akter.
"He came to my home at the end of last month and told me that he was very happy. He said he would get the salary soon and send some money home," said Tania, who lives in Tarabo of Narayanganj.
She said Hasnain is the only son among their siblings. He wanted to help his family as his father was sick. He told Tania that he would go back home once school reopened.
"I was supposed to meet my brother today [yesterday]. But now I am in the morgue to find his body. My parents are fainting repeatedly," said a weeping Tania.
Hasnain's cousin Rakib Hossain, 18, was also missing. He had been working at the factory for three years. He was on the third floor.
"I have searched for my son at every possible place. Finally, I came to the morgue. I don't know what happened to him," said his father Kabir Hossain, holding his photograph.
Firoza Begum, 40, told her husband Jaher that she would come back home after ending her overtime. She remained traceless.
"She joined the factory three months ago as I left my job because of my illness… All she wanted was to raise our daughter. Now everything is shattered," said Jaher.
Rahima Begum, 22, and her younger sister Akhi Begum, 17, used to work on two separate floors of the factory. Akhi was lucky enough to come out safely, but her elder sister could not make it.
Manzurul Islam was among those who survived. A worker on the fourth floor, he was rescued by locals.
"There were three exhaust fans. Four of us tried to break them off, but could not do so. At one point, I lost consciousness due to smoke," he said.
"When I regained consciousness, I found myself at hospital," he said. He was discharged from Dhaka Medical College Hospital on Thursday midnight.
Manzurul said his nephew Sazzad Hossain Sajib worked in the factory too but they did not have any clue where he was.
"We looked for him everywhere, but he's nowhere to be found," said Manzurul's brother Mahfuzul Islam.