Police Investigating Negligence in Deadly Bangladesh Fire

Authorities say that the fire appeared to have spread quickly because of chemicals and plastics in the affected buildings

Bangladesh police said Friday that they were seeking up to a dozen suspects in connection with a fire in the oldest part of the capital and could charge them with negligence over the blaze that killed at least 67 people.

The case involves between 10 and 12 people wanted on suspicion of "causing death through negligence" in the Wednesday night fire in Dhaka's Chawkbazar district, said Ibrahim Khan, a deputy commissioner of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police. He declined to give details.

"Upon investigation we will be able to disclose everything," he told reporters.

Relatives of a 19-year-old killed in the blaze have filed a separate case with police accusing the owners of a building where chemical products were stored and that caught fire of "death by negligence, sabotage and damage of goods," Abdul Halim, a police investigator in Chawkbazar, told The Associated Press. He said no arrests had been made.

Workers were removing charred vehicles, twisted bits of metal and other debris from Chawkbazar on Friday, while others hosed down the road to clean ashes as investigators inspected the burned buildings to determine what caused the blaze.

The area in what is known as Old Dhaka is crammed with apartments, shops and warehouses and firefighters struggled to reach the fire because of the neighborhood's narrow alleyways. Officials and activists have suggested the storage of flammable materials as well as overcrowding played a part in the blaze.

"Cans of deodorant and lighter refilling fuel were stored in the buildings. These are flammable chemicals that helped spread the fire quickly," Lt. Col. S.M. Julfiqar Rahman, a director of the Fire Service and Civil Defense, told reporters.

Meanwhile, authorities were collecting DNA samples from family members searching for missing relatives.

Of the 67 victims, 21 remained unidentified, according to Rumana Akter, an officer in the Dhaka police's criminal investigations unit.

Forensic doctors and lab technicians at Dhaka Medical College and Hospital took blood and cheek swabs in a crowded room outside the hospital morgue to be compared to teeth, hair and other samples taken from the dead.

Mohammed Razu Ahmed, 19, gave a blood sample hoping it would help find his father, Jafar Ahmed, a plastic supplier who went to Chawkbazar to pick up raw materials. Several family members including Ahmed examined 30 bodies but none of them was him.

"We have been calling on his phone since Wednesday night," Ahmed said. "They told us they will let us know."

A team of civil engineers, members of Dhaka's fire department and government officials were expected to suggest ways to prevent similar tragedies.

After a fire in a neighboring district at a building storing flammable chemicals killed 123 people in 2010, authorities promised to bring the buildings into compliance with zoning regulations and close warehouses.

Dhaka-based environmental activist Abu Naser Khan said calls to address dangerous overcrowding and chemical storage after the 2010 fire fell on deaf ears.

"The landlords in Old Dhaka are influential — financially and politically," Khan said. "The people who have chemical and plastic businesses have strong associations that work as a pressure group."

When authorities attempted to evict hundreds of illegal tenants in Old Dhaka last May, business owners protested, foiling the drive, Khan said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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