Fire in old part of Bangladesh's capital kills at least 70

A devastating fire raced through buildings in an old part of Bangladesh's capital and killed at least 70 people, officials and witnesses said on Thursday.

About 50 other people were injured and the fire in Dhaka was mostly under control after more than nine hours of frantic efforts by firefighters.

The Chawkbazar area where the fire was burning is crammed with buildings separated by narrow alleys. The neighbourhood is a mix of residential and commercial, with buildings that commonly have shops, restaurants or warehouses on the ground floors.

The blaze started late on Wednesday night in one building but quickly spread to others, fire department Director General Brig. Gen. Ali Ahmed said.

The death toll rose to 70, with many of the victims trapped inside the buildings, said Mahfuz Riben, a control room official of the Fire Service and Civil Defence in Dhaka.

"Our teams are working there but many of the recovered bodies are beyond recognition. Our people are using body bags to send them to the hospital morgue, this is a very difficult situation," he told AP by phone.

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Dhaka fire
Flames rise fire from a fire in a densely packed shopping area in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. A devastating fire raced through at least five buildings in an old part of Bangladesh's capital and killed scores of people. (AP Photo/Zabed Hasnain Chowdhury)
Firefighters work to douse flames in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. A devastating fire raced through at least five buildings in an old part of Bangladesh's capital and killed scores of people. (AP Photo/Zabed Hasnain Chowdhury)
Bomberos intentan sofocar las llamas de un letal incendio en Daca, Bangladesh, el 20 de febrero de 2019. (AP Foto)
In this Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019, photo, firefighters and local people help douse a fire in Dhaka, Bangladesh. A devastating fire raced through at least five buildings in an old part of Bangladesh's capital and killed scores of people. (AP Photo/Mahmud Hossain Opu)
In this Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019, photo, firefighters try to douse flames of a smoldering fire in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The devastating fire raced through buildings in an old part of Bangladesh's capital and killed scores of people. (AP Photo/Zabed Hasnain Chowdhury)
Firefighters work to douse flames in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. A devastating fire raced through at least five buildings in an old part of Bangladesh's capital and killed scores of people. (AP Photo/Zabed Hasnain Chowdhury)
Locals and firefighters gather around buildings that caught fire late Wednesday in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. A devastating fire raced through at least five buildings in an old part of Bangladesh's capital and killed scores of people. (AP Photo/Mahmud Hossain Opu)
Bangladeshi firefighters carry the body of a victim of a fire in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. A devastating fire raced through at least five buildings in an old part of Bangladesh's capital and killed scores of people. (AP Photo/ Rehman Asad)
locals and firefighters gather around buildings which caught fire late night in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. The devastating fire raced through buildings in an old part of Bangladesh's capital and killed scores of people. (AP Photo/Rehman Asad)
Firefighters work to douse flames in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. A devastating fire raced through at least five buildings in an old part of Bangladesh's capital and killed scores of people. (AP Photo/Zabed Hasnain Chowdhury)
Locals help a Bangladeshi firefighter who lost consciousness briefly while trying to douse flames of a smoldering fire in a building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. The devastating fire raced through buildings in an old part of Bangladesh's capital and killed scores of people. (AP Photo/Zabed Hasnain Chowdhury)
An unidentified Bangladeshi laments following a fire that broke out late Wednesday in closely set buildings in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. A devastating fire raced through at least five buildings in an old part of Bangladesh's capital and killed scores of people. (AP Photo/Rehman Asad)
Rescuers stand at the site of a late Wednesday night fire in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. A devastating fire raced through at least five buildings in an old part of Bangladesh's capital and killed scores of people. (AP Photo/Mahmud Hossain Opu )
Bomberos trabajan entre edificios que ardieron en un incendio nocturno en Daca, Bangladesh, el 21 de febrero de 2019. (AP Foto/Mahmud Hossain Opu )
A Bangladeshi woman loses consciousness while mourning the death of a relative in a fire, outside a morgue in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. A devastating fire raced through at least five buildings in an old part of Bangladesh's capital and killed scores of people. (AP Photo/Rehman Asad)
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Some floors of the destroyed buildings had chemicals and plastic in storage.

Most buildings are used both for residential and commercial purposes despite warnings of the potential for high fatalities from fires after one had killed at least 123 people in 2010. Authorities had promised to bring the buildings under regulations and remove chemical warehouses from the residential buildings.

The death toll could still rise as the condition of some of the injured people was critical, said Samanta Lal Sen, head of a burn unit of the Dhaka Medical College Hospital.

Sen said at least nine of the critically injured people were being treated in his unit.

Witnesses told local TV stations that many gas cylinders stored in the buildings continued to explode one after another. They said the fire also set off explosions in fuel tanks of some of the vehicles that got stuck in traffic in front of the destroyed buildings.

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