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Rahman Hawladar had the haunted look of a man having no reason to live any more after the fire at Boubazar slum in the capital's Hazaribagh yesterday. He lost his wife and daughter.

Residents of the neighbourhood and reporters, many with TV cameras, crowded around the place, covered by ashes with smoke apparently making a way out. Slum dwellers were every now and then making frantic searches through the debris, dirt and wreckage in the hope of finding bits of their belongings.

Amid this chaotic situation, Hauladar sat there in silence, a sharp contrast to the noise of crying, shouting and howling.

"I knew at that point, I would never see them again," he muttered, staring intently at the ashes that once used to be his home.

Another dweller, Mohammad Shumon, suffered 25 percent burns in the face, neck, hands and legs. He has been taking treatment in the Burn Unit of Dhaka Medical College and Hospital and has yet to learn that his seven-year-old son, Abdullah, died in the fire.

There was madness everywhere when the fire broke out around 2:45am. People struggled to get out through the congested place of the poorly-planned shanties. The houses did not have electricity and so the darkness further confused the already-panicked residents. In the commotion, people fled wherever they could, however they could, oftentimes losing track of their loved ones.

During the fire, Shaheenur, 22, hurried out with her son and husband. It was only after she came out in the open that she realised her mother Helena, sister Akhlima and three-year-old son Sakib were in an adjoining house where the fire had originated. She had asked her mother to look after Sakib that night.

Shaheenur ran around all night, desperately searching for the three amid the sea of people gathered on the streets waiting for the fire to die down.

"There were fear and confusion everywhere, as no one could be sure what had happened, who had died," said a desolate Shaheenur. In the morning once the fire brigade found the corpses, she learnt she had lost her mother, sister and son.

All inhabitants of the slum live from hand to mouth after paying rents of Tk 1,500-1,800 a month. And now all they have left are the clothes they had on that night.

Aleba Khatun seemed to be in too much of a shock to believe that fate had done so much injustice to her. She had lost all her belongings and Tk 20,000 that she had saved for her daughter's marriage.

"What am I going to do now?" she cried, but her neighbour comforted her saying she should be glad that she and her family were at least alive.

"Where was the fire brigade when everything was being burnt to ashes?" said Onjona, a domestic worker, anger written all over her face. It took the fire brigade more than an hour to reach the spot even though the roads were empty in the middle of the night, she shouted out of frustration.

By the time they reached there, the damage had all been done, said the inhabitants.

"Why can't the government give us any protection? Don't we vote them into power? Government officials receive their pensions and have a sound sleep at night, while we burn to death," Onjona said.

"Would the same tragedy have happened if this had been a residence in Gulshan or Dhanmondi? The fire brigade would have reached there in 10 minutes," she added.

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