Pope Francis has offered his solidarity and prayers to victims of a massive fire in the center of the Bangladeshi capital, which has reportedly claimed 78 lives so far.
“His Holiness Pope Francis was saddened to learn of the loss of life and of the injuries caused by the conflagration in the centre of Dhaka,” said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, Feb. 21.
“He extends his solidarity to all affected, and prays especially for the repose of the deceased and for the healing of those injured.”
The fast-moving fire swept through a densely populated historic district of Dhaka late Wednesday night, the BBC reported. Many residents were trapped, including, reportedly, a bridal party. Many are still missing and the death toll is expected to rise.
The blaze reportedly began in a chemical warehouse on the ground floor of a residential building. A witness told the BBC he saw an electricity transformer explode which set off a chain reaction of chemical explosions.
The pope also offered his encouragement to the Bangladeshi emergency personnel as they assist victims, and upon all he invoked “the divine blessings of consolation and strength.”
Emergency crews reportedly battled the blaze for five hours and were hindered by narrow streets and a lack of access to water.
Fires and building collapses are a major problem in the densely populated Bangladeshi capital of 18 million residents, as major incidents in the last several years have demonstrated.
A blaze in the Nimtali district of the city killed 124 people in June 2010.
In April 2013, an eight-story garment factory collapsed near the capital, killing at least 1,136 workers and prompting demands for better oversight from Western retailers and local manufacturers. A fire in November of the previous year killed 112, and another fire killed eight in May.
Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest garment exporter. Several European clothing retailers, including H&M, the single largest clothing buyer in Bangladesh, have signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which obliges them to conduct safety inspections and pay for repairs at factories in the nation. Walmart, the second largest buyer, has yet to sign the agreement.