Md Pintu and his wife, Sobera, had no idea that they would lose their belongings in fire just three months after tying the knot.
After their marriage, they started living in a shanty at Chalantika slum in the capital’s Mirpur which was ravaged by a devastating blaze on Friday.
Among the stuff they lost in the fire was Sobera’s wedding sari, something a married woman always cherishes.
“We were out and got in the house in the evening when someone suddenly started shouting ‘fire’. We rushed out of the house. All our dreams were burned in the fire,” Pintu, who works as a bus driver, told The Business Standard.
Around 12 years ago, 60-year-old Nasima Begum had to endure displacement after losing her house on the bank of the Meghna river in Bhola due to erosion.
Now she has lost her house again.
After the 2007 erosion washed away her Bhola house, Nasima came to Dhaka along with her husband Mokhlesur Rahman and two sons.
They started living in the Chalantika slum and Mokhlesur became a rickshaw-puller to make a living.
After a few years, Mokhlesur was no longer able to pull rickshaw due to illness and joined a grocery shop near the slum.
Nasima started sewing clothes at home to supplement her husband’s income.
Both her sons – Rakib and Rony – moved out after getting married.
“We started a new life in Dhaka after leaving Bhola and now we have lost everything. We were not at home when the fire broke out. We returned hurriedly after hearing about the inferno but could not save anything. Everything we had was burned in front of us,” the sexagenarian woman broke into tears.
The old couple now have to start over with some clothes and a scanty amount of money.
Most of the slum dwellers were in their hometowns because of the Eid-ul-Adha vacation when the fire swept through the shanty town on Friday evening. No one died in the accident but most of the slum dwellers had had all their possessions burned.
Jamila Akhter was lucky to be able to save a TV set, electric fans and a trunk. She carried those out of the house and stayed the whole night on a nearby road.
“I was lucky indeed because I could save those stuff. Most of the dwellers could not. When we returned to the slum on Saturday morning, we could not recognise the place. It resembled a graveyard,” Jamila said.
Most of the slum dwellers wept when they came to visit their shanties in the morning. Some tried to collect materials made of iron and steel from the ashes, and later sold those as scraps for Tk50 per kg.
“I sold my cot only for Tk150 even though I bought it for more than Tk4,000,” said Md Jahid who sold burned materials to a scrap dealer.
Controversy over extent of damage
Locals claimed that more than 5,000 families lost their homes in the fire, but the fire service put the number at 3,000.
The fire service authorities also said the fire burned some 600 shanties down.
Rezaul Karim, assistant director of the Fire Service and Civil Defense, said on Saturday the blaze destroyed around 500-600 houses.
“It will be nearly 6,000 people who lost everything but the authorities are not publishing the actual figure,” said Md Jasim who has been living in the slum since 2012.
The fire service said four people sustained injuries in the fire. The injured are receiving treatment in Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College and Hospital.
Cause of fire still unknown
Fire service officials said they were yet to confirm what caused the fire.
A source said the fire broke out from a gas stove while someone was cooking. Another source said the fire might have originated from a short circuit before spreading quickly.
Abdullah Al Mamun, a volunteer of ActionAid Bangladesh who visited the scene, said: “We have seen many burned gas cylinders. Those might be responsible for the fire.”
The fire service formed a probe body to investigate the incident and the committee is working on calculating the extent of damage.
“The committee has been asked to submit the report within 15 working days,” said Rezaul Karim.