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Bangladesh Fire Tears Through Crowded Neighborhood, Killing 70

NEW DELHI — A fast-moving fire tore through a crowded neighborhood in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, turning into an inferno that killed at least 70 people, fire officials said Thursday.

Bangladesh has a poor record when it comes to fire safety, with many buildings cheaply made and unsafe, and with risks compounded by poor enforcement and unscrupulous management. In one of the worst disasters, in 2012, 112 people were killed when a fire ripped through the Tazreen Fashions garment factory outside Dhaka.

According to fire officials, the fire started in a mixed-use building on Wednesday night, when most people were sleeping. Some witnesses said a compressed gas cylinder, which many people use for cooking, started the fire.

Chemicals, including paints, were stored in shops on the building’s ground floor, feeding the flames that engulfed the entire building and spread to others. The neighborhood, Chawkbazar, is centuries old and home to serpentine alleyways and teetering buildings standing so close together they nearly touch.

Haji Abdul Kader, who runs a small pharmacy in the neighborhood, told Agence France-Presse that he heard “a big bang” and then looked out to see “the whole street, which was jam packed with cars and rickshaws, in flames.”

By daybreak on Thursday, the building was nothing but charred timber and ashes. Other buildings nearby were badly burned as well.

“Many of the recovered bodies are beyond recognition,” Mahfuz Riben, an official of the Fire Service and Civil Defense in Dhaka, told The Associated Press. “Our people are using body bags to send them to the hospital morgue — this is a very difficult situation.”

Fire officials said the death toll may rise as they continue to search for survivors and bodies.

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