Bangladesh’s Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said Wednesday that the country has sufficient expertise to carry out an investigation into the powerful explosion that ripped through a multi-storey building in a crowded area here, killing 18 people.
The “earthquake-like” explosion at the seven-storey building at Old Dhaka’s crowded Gulistan area on Tuesday also injured over 150 people, officials said.
The cause of the explosion could not be known immediately, but local residents suspected chemicals illegally stored inside the building, mostly used as an office and business complex, might have sparked the blast.
Talking to reporters after visiting the explosion site on Wednesday, Khan said members of bomb disposal units and police, army and fire service personnel will conduct the probe into the incident.
“But if the country’s experts fail (to investigate), we will seek assistance from foreign experts,” he said.
“The investigation must be impartial. There is no reason for the investigation to be partial,” he was quoted as saying by the Daily Star newspaper.
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Everything regarding the investigation will be made public, Khan said.
On Tuesday, hospital authorities confirmed 17 deaths while one more victim succumbed to his wounds overnight, raising the death toll to 18. The number of wounded people is estimated to be over 150, officials said.
A four-member probe body headed by Lt Col Mohammad Tajul Islam Chowdhury, director of Fire Service and Civil Defence (Operation and maintenance), has been formed to look into the cause of the explosion.
The committee has been tasked to submit its report within five working days, said Shahjahan Sikder, an official at the Fire service and Civil Defence headquarters.
Meanwhile, three firefighting units started the rescue operation for the second day on Wednesday.
Although the fire service resumed rescue and recovery efforts for a second day at the blast site, the work is moving slowly because of the risky condition of the building.
“It became risky to carry on the extensive rescue searches since the explosion has weakened the building. We are waiting for the safety clearance from the concerned experts to restart our full-scale operation,” fire service’s deputy director Babu Chakrabarty told reporters.
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He added that rescuers were kept ready to enter into the building, where the explosion took place.
The fire service had suspended the rescue campaign after fire chief Brigadier General Mohammad Mainuddin Tuesday night said that the “the building appeared vulnerable after the explosion” that occurred on its ground floor and badly damaged two upper floors.
Witnesses said the building, which mostly housed several sanitary hardware shops and some business offices, was bending on one side while the fire officials said the blast damaged most of the pillars on the ground floor making it risky for anyone to enter into it.
The beams and pillars in the basement of the building are damaged, and operating heavy machinery in the area, such as excavators, could create vibrations that might cause the building to collapse, said Zafar Hossain, deputy commissioner of the Lalbagh zone of DMP.
“The experts are already holding a meeting. They will come here and will give further instructions. The rescue work is still incomplete,” he was quoted as saying by the Dhaka Tribune newspaper.
Once the fire service fully resumes its operation and removes the debris, only then it will be possible to confirm if anyone is trapped there, he added.
Officials fear the death toll is likely to go up as many of those rescued are critically injured.
Meanwhile, authorities handed over the bodies of the 17 people who died in the explosion to their relatives on Wednesday, said Inspector Bachchu Mia, in-charge of the state-run Dhaka Medical College and Hospital police outpost.
Among the injured, 11 people have been undergoing treatment at the Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery, United News of Bangladesh reported.
According to media reports, at least three people were still missing but several more were feared to be trapped under debris.
“We cannot confirm yet if the blast was the outcome of any sabotage. But our bomb disposal unit along with military and police bomb disposal teams are working,” RAB director general M Khurshid Hossain told reporters on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is currently in Doha for the United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries, has prayed for the peace of the departed and urged authorities to take prompt action to ensure better treatment of the injured.
Tuesday’s explosion occurred two days after another exposition at a building in Dhaka’s Science Laboratory area that killed three people and injured several others.
Last week, seven people were killed in an explosion at a private oxygen plant in the southeastern port city of Chattogram, injuring dozens of others.