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By Associated Press

DHAKA, Bangladesh — A devastating fire raced through densely packed buildings in a centuries-old shopping district in Bangladesh's capital, killing at least 70 people, officials said Thursday.

Dhaka's Chawkbazar area is crammed with buildings separated by narrow alleys, with residences commonly above shops, restaurants or warehouses on the ground floors.

The blaze started late Wednesday night in one building but quickly spread to others, authorities said.

Firefighters struggled to find enough water to fight the blaze and had to draw supplies from a nearby mosque, one local official told Reuters.

Some reports suggested many of the dead were pedestrians, shoppers or diners who died quickly as several gas cylinders exploded, and flames engulfed the nearby buildings very quickly.

The body of a victim is carried from the scene on Thursday.Munir Uz Zaman / AFP - Getty Images

"Many of the recovered bodies are beyond recognition," said Mahfuz Riben, a control room official in Dhaka.

Such tragedies are shockingly common in Bangladesh, where fires, floods, ferry sinkings and other disasters regularly claim dozens of lives or more.

In 2012, a fire raced through a garment factory on the outskirts of Dhaka, killing at least 112 people trapped behind its locked gates. Less than six months later, another building housing garment factories collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people.

Reuters contributed.