Hundreds Killed in Pakistan Factory Fires

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Common Dreams

Hundreds Killed in Pakistan Factory Fires

Death toll continues to climb

by
Common Dreams staff

Pakistan fire crews tackle the blaze at the Karachi factory (Asif Hassan / AFP Photo)

Factory fires took the lives of over 300 people in Pakistan's two largest cities on Tuesday, inciting condemnation over the industry's lax regulations regarding fire safety. Barred windows, locked fire exits, poor ventilation, and faulty building design were blamed for the mass deaths.

The larger of the two blazes broke out Tuesday night in a garment factory in the southern port city of Karachi, where at least 289 workers died, according to Roshan Ali Sheikh, a senior government official. 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.

Workers on upper levels of the building attempted to flee but were blocked by locked exits and barred windows.

The building had only one accessible exit, and all the other doors were locked, said senior government official Roshan Ali Sheikh.

"There were no safety measures taken in the building design. There was no emergency exit. All the people got trapped," said senior police official Amjad Farooqi.

Some of the workers did manage to escape after prying barred windows open and jumping out of the five story building. Many suffered injuries from the fall, reports Associated Press.

Firefighters continued to fight the blaze throughout Wednesday. Officials said the death toll may still rise as the total amount of workers trapped inside the building is still unknown.

The factory owners have allegedly fled. Police began a search for the owners Wednesday and placed them on a list which refuses passage out of the country.

The second blaze also occurred Tuesday night in a four-story shoe factory in the eastern city of Lahore, killing 25 people. The factory was illegally built in a residential section of the city. The fire broke out when sparks from an electricity generator touched chemicals used in the factory.

A firefighter at the scene, Numan Noor, told Al-jazeera that the main escape route in the building had also been blocked by the factory owners -- adding the the death toll.

Regarding the blaze in Karachi, employee Mohammad Pervez stated, "The owners were more concerned with safeguarding the garments in the factory than the workers," he said holding up a photograph of his cousin, who was missing after the fire.

"If there were no metal grilles on the windows a lot of people would have been saved. The factory was overflowing with garments and fabrics. Whoever complained was fired."

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