THE death toll from a gas explosion that tore through a Bangladesh mosque has risen to 24, officials said, as rescuers described how survivors jumped into a nearby open sewer to escape the flames.
Worshippers were at Friday(4) evening prayers when the blast sent a ball of fire through the mosque in the central district of Narayanganj near the capital Dhaka, emergency services said.
Eight more people — including the mosque’s imam and muezzin, who led prayers — died overnight taking the toll to 24, said Samanta Lal Sen, a spokesman for a specialist burns hospital in Dhaka.
“The conditions of 13 injured people were critical. Bodies of some of the injured were 70-80 per cent burnt,” he said, adding there were fears the toll could climb higher.
“It is tough to survive if anyone has more than 30 per cent of his body burnt.”
Forty-five people in total were injured, police said.
Mohammad Salim said he rushed to the mosque after the explosion, adding the blast’s shock waves shook the neighbourhood.
He said burnt worshippers threw themselves into an open sewer next to the mosque.
“They wailed ‘save, save us’ as they rolled in the sewer water to cool their burnt bodies. Their faces were charred and were beyond recognition,” said Salim, who lost two cousins and a brother-in-law in the explosion.
“I lifted three of them out of water. As I touched them, their skin peeled out from their bodies. We took them to a hospital on rickshaws.”
There has been growing anger over the incident after the committee running the mosque alleged the state-run gas transmission firm had earlier demanded a bribe to fix the leaks quickly.
“A probe body is looking into how the explosion occurred and whether there was any negligence on our part,” the company’s managing director Ali Mohammad Al Mamun said.
Investigators suspected a spark from an air conditioner — which came on after a power cut — started the blaze.
The committee’s president Abdul Gafur said that the mosque started experiencing problems with the gas pipes a few days earlier.
Local fire chief Abdullah al Arefin, who is part of the team investigating the explosion, said that the committee said they had smelt gas for the past seven days.
“But they did not have any idea that this could lead to such a big fire,” he said.
Bangladesh’s energy minister Nasrul Hamid, who has visited the site, has ordered a probe into the committee’s allegations, a spokesman for his ministry, Mir Aslam, said.
In Bangladesh, safety regulations are often flouted. Hundreds are killed each year in fires in the nation of 168 million people.