Two factory fires kill more than 300 in Pakistan

Sep 13, 2012, 07:36 IST | Agencies

The death toll from a pair of devastating factory fires that broke out in Pakistan's two biggest cities rose to 314 people on Wednesday, many of whom perished because they were unable to escape buildings that lacked emergency exits and basic safety equipment such as alarms and sprinklers.

The more deadly of the two blazes that broke out on Tuesday night was at a garment factory in the southern city of Karachi. The death toll from the fire rose to 289 people on Wednesday, as firefighters continued to battle the blaze, said Tariq Kaleem, a doctor at Civil Hospital in Karachi.

Most of the deaths were caused by suffocation as people caught in the basement were unable to escape when it filled with smoke, said the top firefighter in Karachi, Ehtisham-ud-Din. There were no fire exits, and the doors leading out of the basement were locked, he said. Workers on higher floors of the five-storey building struggled to make it out of windows that were covered with metal bars. Many were injured when they jumped from the building, including a 27-year-old pregnant woman who was injured in the fall.

Another injured factory worker, Mohammad Ilyas, speaking from the hospital, said he was working with roughly 50 other men and women on one of the floors when suddenly a fireball came from the staircase.

inferno: While firefighters extinguish flames at the garment factory in Karachi, people trapped inside try to escape the building. Pics/AFP

“I jumped from my seat as did others and rushed toward the windows, but iron bars on the windows barred us from escaping. Some of us quickly took tools and machines to break the iron bars,” he said. “That was how we managed to jump out of the windows down to the ground floor.”

A fire also swept through a four-storey shoe factory in the eastern city of Lahore on Tuesday night, killing 25 people, some from burns and some from suffocation, said senior police officer Multan Khan. The factory was illegally set up in a residential part of the city.

It broke out when people in the building were trying to start their generator after the electricity went out. Sparks from the generator made contact with chemicals used to make the shoes, igniting the blaze. A firefighter at the scene, Numan Noor, said the reason most of the victims died was because the main escape route was blocked.

Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf expressed his shock over the deaths in both cities.    

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