Taifa Akter,11, from Barguna sadar, had long been promised a trip to Dhaka after passing the fifth grade. Taifa had been insistent that a trip to Dhaka is what she really wanted. Once she kept her end of the bargain, her father, Bashir Uddin, put together the money for the trip with great difficulty and finally set off for the capital with his daughter.
On Thursday, Taifa was all set to return to Barguna. She could not wait to tell everyone what she had seen in the capital. Taifa, however, would have no stories to tell. She would perish in the MV Abhijan launch fire.
Meanwhile, her father Bashir,38, has been brought to Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery in Dhaka. His body is badly burnt, and all of his toes, except his big toes, are lost. His face is stained with blood.
Approached by this correspondent, Bashir mustered up the strength to speak. "Soon after boarding, we saw that one of the engines was not working properly. We informed the authorities, but they said it was not a problem.
"I was on the second floor of the launch, where the engine was situated. When the fire broke out around three in the morning, I immediately grabbed my daughter and threw her into the river. I jumped right after her and grabbed her hand. Holding her with one hand, I began to swim, but could not find anything to hold on to. There was darkness all around and I could not see anything," he said.
Bashir said he was then rescued by a boat and taken to Jhalakathi hospital, where doctors declared his daughter dead.
"My daughter died in my arms. I only had two children and she was the oldest. She wanted to study hard and secure a good job. But Taifa never returned from Dhaka," he said.
He lost his wife to the darkness
Jahanara Akhter, 35, a resident of Betagi upazila of Barguna, was a teacher at a primary school. She got married to Selim Raza (45) of the same area in 2013.
After visiting a doctor in Dhaka, Jahanara and her husband were making their way back home on the ill-fated Abhijan MV.
Sohail Rahman, Selim's brother, said, "My brother said that he was on the second floor of the launch with my sister-in-law. When the fire broke out, he told her to remove her burqa and her bags and jump into the river. Suddenly, the launch was plunged into darkness and he could not find Jahanara anymore.
"My brother began looking for her amid the blaze. Once the flames grew too much, he was forced to jump into the river. Afterwards he lost consciousness and remembers nothing from that point on," Sohail said.
Selim Reza, burnt in several places, has been admitted to Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery for advanced treatment. Still in critical condition, Sohail said that whenever his brother regained consciousness, he began asking for his wife.
"If Allah returns her body, at least we could bury her," Sohail said.
He watched his two sons burn
Russell Sheikh, 36, was on his way to Barguna from Dhaka to attend a family function with nine members of his family, all of whom lived in the Madartech area of the capital.
Moyna Begun, his younger brother's wife, said, "Russel's two sons Jibon (12) and Emon (9), his wife Putul (24) and her two brothers Kausar (28) Robin (14), Rassel's mother-in-law, his younger brother Kauser's wife Rumi (20) and their daughter Ahona (3), were all going to Barguna on the launch.
Since the fire, Russel's two sons, Ruma, Ahona and his mother-in-law have not been found. "We do not know their condition. The rest have been admitted to hospitals in Dhaka and Barishal," Moyna said.
Moyna further said that when Russell Sheikh regained consciousness, he said that he saw his two sons burning in the fire. He got burnt trying to save them.
"Now we don't know whether those missing are dead or alive. We have searched for them in different hospitals, but have not found them," she said.
Several other passengers on the launch said that the seating area in the ground floor began getting hot as soon as the launch left Sadarghat. The heat increased gradually and the engine caught fire after the launch crossed three to four ghats. The fire soon spread across the launch.