Rabiul Islam of Munshiganj woke up at 2:45am on Sunday when his mobile phone rang. When he took the call he could hear his sister-in-law Suraiya Begum Ayesha crying on the other side, “Brother-in-law, we are surrounded by fire!”
Ayesha had called her sister Shahnaj Begum, who is married to Islam and lives at Munshiganj’s Bikrampur, right after the fire broke out at the Bou Bazaar slum at Hazaribagh in the capital in the wee hours.
Islam told bdnews24.com: “My wife (Shahnaj) snatched the phone from me and spoke to her sister. The phone went off while she was telling Ayesha to stay safe anyhow.”
“Later, my wife said she heard Ayesha saying ‘Maa-go!’ (Oh my God!) right before the line went dead,” he said.
The couple started right away for the slum at Hazaribagh from Bikrampur hoping to find out Ayesha alive and safe.
But Ayesha, 28, and her daughter ‘Julia’, 3, were burnt to death along with nine others in the blaze which also gutted at least 500 shanties in that slum.
Three dead bodies along with Ayesha and her daughter were taken to Dhaka Medical College Hospital mortuary early in the morning.
Hazaribagh Police Station OC Rafiqul Islam told bdnews24.com that eight more corpses were also recovered from the site later in the day.
The four-hour-long fire killed six women and five children, at the slum situated near the Hazaribagh Beribandh, on the outskirts of the capital. The victims had apparently been trapped inside a two-storey building.
The third body taken along with Ayesha and Julia at DMCH in the early morning was six-and-a-half-year old Abdul Ahad’s.
He died in the fire right before her mother Sheuli Begum’s eyes.
She told bdnews24.com: “My husband Sumon and I were trying to jump over the wall after the fire broke out. Ahad fell off from Sumon’s lap during the scramble as everyone was trying to save themselves.”
“Sumon also fell trying to get our son back from the ground. And then the house fell on them. Sumon somehow managed to get out of the fire, but he could not save our son.”
While Sheuli was remembering the gory events, one of her neighbours ran to her and asked when she would go to get her son’s body from the hospital.
She broke into tears. “I have nobody left, his father is at hospital. Who will get my son back…. what shall I do now?”
Her husband, Sumon is a construction worker and was admitted at DMCH with burn injuries earlier in the day.
Another victim of the blaze, ‘Rahman’, a day labourer, saw his wife, Munni Begum, 25, and their only child, 2-year-old daughter ‘Mim’, die right before him.
He told bdnews24.com: “We woke up after hearing people shouting ‘fire, fire’. Munni ran for the gate of the slum right away. The shanties had not caught fire until then.”
“I was right behind her trying to get out through the gate. But Munni fell to the ground as she couldn’t get out. I could not get them out as they were trapped at the iron stairs near the gate.”
Rahman fled the spot to save himself but watched the fire devour his family.
The other deceased were identified as – Helena Begum, 50, her daughter ‘Aklima’, 9, her grandson ‘Sakib’, 4, Sokhina Begum, 55, her granddaughter ‘Moyna’, 13, and ‘Anwara’, 60.
DMP’s Ramna Zone Deputy Commissioner Nurul Alam said all the deceased were from the ‘Shamsu Professor’s Slum’ which is generally a compound surrounded by a wall with a two-storied concrete building, two-storied houses made of tin and makeshift shanties on the edge of the Bou Bazaar slum.
There is a six-feet high and four-feet wide gate to get in and out of the ‘Shamsu Professor’s Slum’ spread over nearly five-katha land. The two-storied concrete building has kitchens, bathrooms and toilets, but no room for living.