The balloon man often came to the Fazar Matabbar's slum. For kids in and around the area, it was happiness wrapped in colours that he sold. Children gathered around him every time he appeared, asking for their favourite balloons to add some brightness to their grey lives.
The day broke yesterday in its usual beauty at the slum in Rupnagar of Mirpur in the city. The children, in their excitement, gathered around the balloon man in the afternoon. But did anyone imagine that the day would soon turn into horror?
As they crowded, laughing and talking around the balloon man, the helium cylinder exploded, instantly killing six and injuring more than 15.
The six deceased were Ramzan, 8, Nupur, 7, Shaheen, 9, Farzana, 6, Riyamoni,7, and Jannat, 14, all residents of the slum.
A witness to the incident, Mostafa Kamal, said the balloon man came with his cylinder at around 3:30pm yesterday and the children were soon encircling him.
"Suddenly we heard a loud sound and then witnessed a terrible scene. There were body parts lying scattered all around. A woman lost a hand and a child half his face. Another's guts were all out," he said.
Another witness, Mintu, said, "We thought an electric transmitter had exploded. But when we rushed to the spot, we saw children and adults, their limbs severed, lying on the ground. Some were dead. The right side of the balloon man's body was gone."
Shaheen, a sugarcane vendor in the area, said he ran towards the spot after the blast and saw children with their faces burnt, eyes hanging from their sockets and severed limbs scattered all around.
"The amputated body parts on the ground were still shaking," he said.
Anwar Hossain, senior fire station officer at Mirpur Fire Service, said, "Three of our units reached the scene very quickly. We found four dead bodies on the spot."
"The helium cylinder had been placed on a van. After the blast, only remains of it were found," he added.
All the injured were first taken to Surokkha General Hospital in Mirpur for primary care and then shifted to the Burn and Plastic Surgery Unit of Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
Dr Mohammad Alauddin, resident surgeon of Dhaka Medical College Hospital, briefed the media on the state of the injured.
"Four children are in critical condition, with especially two of them in a very serious state. A rickshaw-puller's son, who lost half his face, is being taken to the neuro surgery unit. Another unidentified child has his intestines out; we are getting him to the operation theatre as soon as we can."
"The others too are under treatment. Their wounds are being cleaned and dressed. Our nurses and doctors are doing their best," he added.
When asked if other injured patients would be able to recover, the doctor said, "It is hard to make instant comments in this situation because sometimes they can show delayed symptoms or have silent injuries."
Mubasshir Chowdhury, ward-7 councillor of Dhaka North City Corporation, said the balloon man used to exchange balloons for scraps. "This is totally illegal, and the authorities should take steps to put a stop to it so that such horrific accidents do not recur in future."