dhaka bangladesh
© AP Photo/Abdul Goni
Fire officials carry a body of a victim after the explosion in Dhaka.
At least 17 people have been killed and 140 injured in an explosion inside an office building in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, police and fire service officials have said.

The explosion shook the fourth and fifth floors of a five-storey building in Gulistan, a major hub for wholesale goods in the capital, shortly before 5pm local time (11:00 GMT) on Tuesday.

Authorities could not immediately provide the reason behind the huge explosion in the bustling commercial area.

""At least 17 people have died, including two women," police inspector Bacchu Mia told AFP.

Mia said more than 140 had been brought to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH).

More than 112 people were treated for head wounds, fractures and other injuries at DMCH, hospital director Nazmul Islam told AFP.

"The pattern of the injuries shows that it was a huge explosion," he said, adding that hundreds of doctors and nurses were mobilised.

He said some injured people were also sent to other hospitals in the city.

No fire broke out in the building but more than 150 firefighters were at the site to assist in rescue efforts, a fire services spokesperson said.

A middle-aged man in a blood-soaked shirt told reporters he had been injured in the blast, which shattered windows and damaged a wall of the building.

"There were people lying on the floor. I escaped by climbing out from the window," he said.

Even though rescuers got to the scene within seven minutes of the blast, the extent of the damage has hampered their efforts to reach people who may still be stuck inside, according to Fire Department Chief Brigadier General Main Uddin.

"It's risky to enter the building now," he said. "We needed reinforcements for columns and beams to continue rescue (efforts) on the ground floor and the underground," Uddin said.

"There is still the possibility of people stuck inside the building," he said.

He added that there was no gas line under the building and no sign of explosives.

"We are trying to find the reason (for the blast)," he said.

Anxious relatives crowded the blast site looking for missing loved ones.

Rubble and splinters hit bus, crowded streets

A bus driver caught in the blast said 30 of his passengers were injured when his vehicle was passing the building as the blast hit.

"I heard a loud explosion and then I was hit in the head by a flying object," he told reporters.

Another witness said people were trapped on the second, fourth and fifth floors of the building before firefighters arrived and rushed them to hospital.

The country's health minister Zahid Maleque visited the injured in the hospital and told reporters that most of the fatalities were caused by head injuries.

No substantial fire broke out in the building, which housed dozens of warehouses, shops selling bathroom fittings and other commercial spaces.

"Our officers are investigating whether it was an act of sabotage or an accident," Dhaka police commissioner Khandaker Golam Faruq told reporters.

The military also sent its bomb disposal unit, Rashedul Alam, an army spokesperson said.

Several floors of the building and the side walls were destroyed in the explosion, which sent rubble and splinters flying into crowded streets.

The United News of Bangladesh agency reported that people on the upper floors were trapped for hours after the explosion.

History of fire accidents

Bangladesh has a history of industrial disasters, including factories catching fire with workers trapped inside. Monitoring groups have blamed corruption and lax enforcement.

In 2012, about 117 workers died when they were trapped behind locked exits in a garment factory in Dhaka.

The country's worst industrial disaster occurred the following year, when the Rana Plaza garment factory outside Dhaka collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people.

In 2019, a blaze ripped through a 400-year-old area cramped with apartments, shops and warehouses in the oldest part of Dhaka and killed at least 67 people. Another fire in Old Dhaka in a house illegally storing chemicals killed at least 123 people in 2010.

In 2021, a fire at a food and beverage factory outside Dhaka killed at least 52 people, many of whom were trapped inside by an illegally locked door.

Last year, a fire at a shipping container storage depot near the country's main Chittagong Seaport killed at least 41 people, including nine firefighters, and injured more than 100 others.