By Azad Majumder
Dhaka, Dec 24 (EFE).– At least 36 people were killed and around 100 suffered injuries in a massive fire on a large passenger boat in Bangladesh’s southern Jhalokathi district on Friday morning, officials said.
The officials said the incident took place around 3:30 am on Sugandha river in Jhalokathi, some 275 km (150 miles) south of Dhaka, when the boat was on its way to Barguna district from the capital.
Jhalokathi district administration chief Mohammad Zohor Ali told EFE that the rescuers had recovered 36 bodies.
“Nearly 100 injured passengers were sent to hospitals. We do not know exactly how many passengers were on the boat. We got different accounts from different people. At the moment, we assume about 700 to 800 passengers were traveling with the launch,” Ali said.
Fire services deputy director Kamal Uddin said it was a three-storied launch carrying several hundred passengers.
“It was fully loaded on a Thursday night. Passengers told us there were several hundred people on it,” he told EFE on the phone from the spot.
Kamal said a dense fog hampered the rescue operation.
He said firefighters recovered 29 charred bodies from the boat while villagers and coast guard recovered others.
“Many people jumped off the boat to survive. We do not know yet if more people died that way. We sent 74 injured people to hospital. Villagers also rescued some other survivors,” he said.
Boat accidents are common in Bangladesh, but fire incidents on river vessels are rare.
Local media, citing some survivors, said the fire originated from the engine room.
Sourav Ahmed Ashiq, a lawyer, who survived the fire, told EFE that he noticed the fire around 3 am.
“We were three friends traveling together in a cabin on the third floor. When we saw the fire, we woke up people from the nearby cabin. I called police,” Ashiq said.
Ashiq said he saw women with their children tied to their backs jumping into the river to escape the flames.
He said the driver took the boat near an island but could not anchor it properly.
“It sailed back to mid river. Then we decided to jump.”
He said blinding fog hampered their survival attempts.
“We could not decide which way to swim. I left everything in the launch, my luggage, a laptop, an i-Phone.”
Ashiq said some villagers rescued them and gave them dry clothes and tea.