'Death was just moment away from us!'

Galib Ashraf . Dhaka | Update:

People participate in special prayer offered for the salvation of the dead at Chawkbazar fire at Churihatta mosque on Friday. Photo: Ashraful AlamIt was like any other night for Sajib Islam, a resident of Haji Wahed Mansion, the epicenter of Wednesday’s massive fire in Old Dhaka’s Chawkbazar. He was sitting in the veranda of his apartment at around 10:30pm in third floor of the building when the loud bang jolted the area.

“The explosion was so loud that our television was split into two; outside, the flames spread like wildfire in moments.

“My mother thought it was an earthquake,” said Sajib.

“Some residents of the building were thinking of staying inside as they were too afraid to go out into the inferno. But we refused. We would have burnt alive had we remained stayed in the apartment.”

He, along with five families living in the building, hurriedly came out of the apartment amidst the choking smoke and billowing rage of fire, and that decision saved their lives.

“I just wonder how near death was! Death was just moment away from us! I can’t even believe we survived such a massive disaster,” Sajib, a second year student of Dhaka City College told Prothom Alo on Friday.

We survived, but those of us who had seen the devastation from so close will have to bear the burden of the memory for the rest of our lives, he added.

Asked if they were aware of chemical substances stored in the building, Sajib said, they talked about it with the owner of the house just two days ago.

“We told the owner to relocate the perfume factory from the building because we knew it’s dangerous. But, the owner retorted, where can you go? You will find chemical factories dotted all over the Puran (Old) Dhaka. It has become our ‘heritage’!” said Sajib.

That ‘heritage’ of Old Dhaka has caused apocalypse and devoured more than 70 lives.

Local trader named Mohsin, along with his brothers, sifts for unharmed materials at his warehouse from the wreckage of fire. Photo: Galib AshrafWhile the fire service officials contended that combustible chemical (body spray and other beauty products) substances in the Wahed Mansion exacerbated the fire, if not caused it, some local house owners seemed piqued about ‘so much talk about chemical substances’.

This reporter talked with at least four house owners of the locality who blamed media for putting blame on chemical substances as the reason of fire.

They all echoed the same voice that it was gas cylinder what caused the fire and chemicals had nothing to do with it.

The reason of fire might be a subject of debate, but no one has any doubt over the devastation of the inferno.

On Friday, emotional scenes were created during the Jumma prayer at local mosque as people were seen wailing for the salvation of the departed souls in the devastation. 

While the nation is mourning the death and sheer devastation caused by fire, a certain Mohammad Mohsin was counting his losses incurred by the fire.

Mohsin had a godown of miswak, caps, tasbi and janamaz (prayer mat) in the building opposite to Wahed Mansion.

On Friday, Mohsin along with his brother was seen sifting for unharmed materials from the wreckage.

A cap and miswak (teeth cleaning twig) is seen in the wreckage of a warehouse. Photo: Galib Ashraf“Goods worth Tk 8 to 9 million was stored there, all were gutted. I have come to see if I can salvage anything from the rubble,” said Mohsin who own a shop named ‘Mahbub Cap House’ in Chawkbazar.

I don’t know how I will recover the financial loss, said Mohsin.

The inferno took all, but he was at least content that he was not among the human bodies which turned into ashes.

Despite losing everything, the survivors have at least something left and that is their own lives. But how will the families of the dead ones survive the pain and loss, wondered Mohsin.

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