KARACHI, Sep 12 – More than 310 Pakistanis perished in horrific fires that destroyed two factories in Pakistan, an unprecedented industrial tragedy that prompted calls Wednesday for an overhaul of poor safety standards.
At least 289 people died at a garment factory in Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city, just hours after 21 died at a shoe factory in Lahore, close to the Indian border.
In scenes of horror, relatives watched as loved ones jumped from windows of the four-storey Karachi building where hundreds were working in a bid to escape the blaze, which began late Tuesday.
The city’s top administration official, Karachi Roshan Shaikh, told AFP that more victims were being recovered and that he expected the toll to rise.
The toll rose rapidly during the day as firefighters extinguished smouldering embers and found dozens of dead huddled together in the basement and ground floor of the factory, where they suspect that the fire began.
“We didn’t find bodies in ones or twos, but in the dozens, which is why the death toll is increasing so alarmingly,” said Karachi fire chief Ehtesham Salim.
Many of those on the upper floors of the building were rescued or jumped to escape the inferno, although dozens broke limbs on impact with the street.
Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said he had ordered an inquiry into both fires. Officials said the factory in Karachi in particular was in poor condition and lacked emergency exits.
Officials said two brothers who owned the company have been barred from leaving the country.
“The building has developed cracks and there is a danger it can collapse any time,” Shaikh told Pakistan’s private Geo TV channel. “Owners of the factory have been absconding and raids are being conducted for their arrest,” he said.
Officials said two brothers who owned the company have been barred from leaving the country. “Their names have been put on exit control list,” a senior government official told AFP.
Irfan Moton, chairman of the Sindh Industrial Trading Estate (SITE) told AFP he believed there were 600 to 700 people in the factory when the fire broke out. “We believe many people have come out, but still there are fears the final toll could be higher,” he said.