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Bangladesh container depot fire kills nearly 50 people and injures hundreds

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A massive fire near the biggest port in Bangladesh has killed about 50 people this weekend. Investigators are trying to learn what caused it and why industrial disasters seem to keep happening there. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports from Mumbai.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Firefighters are still spraying down the wreckage, charred husks of shipping containers near Chittagong in Bangladesh's southeast. An import-export depot caught fire there Saturday. It took firefighters more than 24 hours to extinguish the flames. Some of them are among the dead.

(CROSSTALK)

FRAYER: Workers told local media it began with an explosion in a container filled with chemicals...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

FRAYER: ...And that many more explosions followed. They were felt more than two miles away.

AMIRUL HAQUE AMIN: It was shocking for me. On the other hand, I was angry.

FRAYER: Amirul Haque Amin lived through Bangladesh's worst industrial disaster - the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory, which killed 1,100 people. He heads a trade union that pushed for new safety rules after that. But other industries, like ports, he says, have not followed suit.

AMIN: In many other sectors, this issue - safe workplace - it is still now not ensured.

FRAYER: Bangladesh has seen huge industrial growth. Its GDP per capita recently surpassed India, says economist Khondaker Golam Moazzem.

KHONDAKER GOLAM MOAZZEM: But unfortunately, the industrial safety for the workers didn't actually maintain a balance along with that growth.

FRAYER: Workers at this port may not have known they were dealing with explosive chemicals, he says. An investigation is underway.

Lauren Frayer, NPR News, Mumbai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.