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'Huge inferno' kills scores in Bangladesh

At least 117 people were killed in a fire that raged through a crowded, centuries-old Dhaka neighborhood into early Friday morning.
/ Source: The Associated Press

An electrical explosion plunged a neighborhood of Bangladesh's capital in darkness and ignited a shop of flammable chemicals, creating a massive inferno that killed at least 117 — including 15 members of a wedding party — and injured more than 100 others.

The country's worst fire in recent memory began Thursday night in the narrow alleys of the old section of Dhaka, crammed with new additions to decades-old buildings, when an electrical transformer exploded soon after a rainstorm swept the city, police officer Abul Kalam said.

"There were screams, shouts for help and total chaos," Kalam said.

Most of the dead were trapped in two or three residential buildings, said government administrator Mohibul Haque. He said the death toll could rise because some were still feared trapped in the rubble.

Mohammad Gulzar was serving beverages to dozens of guests who had just arrived in his small apartment for his daughter's wedding reception when they were jolted by a loud blast. The building was quickly engulfed by fire, and the guests tried to run outside but found themselves trapped as the blaze engulfed the gate of the five-story building.

At least 15 of Gulzar's guests and family members died.

"Why me, Allah? What wrong have I committed?" Gulzar, 50, cried as he sat in front of rows of corpses covered with white shrouds on the road outside his burned apartment.

Gulzar's daughter, Runa Aktar, survived because she was at a beauty parlor to prepare for the ceremony.

Mohammad Faruk, who lived nearby, lost all 16 family members — his wife, children, grandchildren and parents. He survived because he stayed late at work.

"I should have come home early," Faruk said, sobbing. "Maybe I could have saved some of them."

Hospital overwhelmed
Fire official Abdus Salam said firefighters were delayed because their vehicles couldn't fit through the narrow streets and there were no hydrants or other sources of water.

Image: One of the survivors of a fire that sparked in Old Dhaka
Chameli Sarker, 30, one of the survivors of a fire that sparked in Old Dhaka, is attended by a relative at the Medical College Hospital Dhaka June 4, 2010. At least 40 people were killed and more than 100 injured in a fire in Bangladesh's capital Dhaka on Thursday, the Fire Service said. The rescue operation and search for bodies was continuing and unconfirmed reports broadcast by Bangladesh television stations said the final death toll could rise as high as 100. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj (BANGLADESH - Tags: DISASTER HEALTH)Andrew Biraj / X02521

Firefighters and residents carried victims to hospitals on three-wheeled rickshaws as relatives wailed.

The state-run Dhaka Medical College Hospital was overwhelmed with burn victims. Burn unit chief Shamanta Lal Sen said it was the worst disaster he had seen in his 40-year career. His hospital division struggled to care for the casualties with available beds for only about 25 people.

Hospital authorities appealed to the public for donations of blood to treat the injured, some in critical condition.

Bangladesh will hold a day of national mourning Saturday when flags will be lowered to half-staff and special prayers will be recited at places of worship across the country.

In 2007, a blaze in an 11-story building in central Dhaka housing two TV stations and a newspaper killed six people, including several who jumped to their deaths from the burning offices. Others were rescued from the rooftop by firefighters using ropes and steel ladders.