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Garment factory blaze kills at least 249

Lack of safety measures contributed to high death toll

A grieving family holds up a photograph of a loved one who died in the fire  A grieving family holds up a photograph of a loved one who died in the fire
  • Sunny Gill
  • Pakistan
  • September 13, 2012
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Grieving families began burying their loved ones today after at least 249 people were killed in what officials described as one of the country’s worst ever fires yesterday at a garment factory in Karachi.

The blaze erupted shortly after another fire at a shoe factory in Lahore killed 25 people. Investigators believe both fires were caused by faulty generators.

Hundreds of workers were trapped in the Ali Enterprises factory in the port city’s Baldia district. The building had no fire exits and metal grilles across the windows barred the escape of many of the victims, rescue officials said.

Those that managed to escape were forced to jump from the upper floors. At least 65 workers were injured jumping from the four story building.

One of the survivors, who only gave the name Saleem, broke his leg and received minor burns.

“All of a sudden, the entire floor was filled with smoke and flames. The intense heat made everybody desperate. I managed to break a steel grille away from a window and jumped outside,” he said.

A case has already been lodged against the factory owners after allegations of unsafe working conditions emerged.

Rescuers said there was little they could do to save those trapped in the building and were forced to watch helplessly as the blaze raged and the death toll grew.

“We have limited resources. A shortage of water posed the biggest challenge and we had to refill trucks at hydrants that were miles away,” said Karachi fire chief, Ehtesham Salim.

He said the factory was full of combustible material fueling the fire which raged for around 15 hours. Many of the victims died of smoke inhalation and their bodies were later consumed by the blaze, Salim added.

Meanwhile, the grief of relatives is already turning into anger, aimed not just at the factory’s owners but also at the authorities who they claim allowed the factory to operate despite safety concerns.

Noman Peter, who works for the Catholic Bishop’s National Commission for Justice and Peace, lost his brother-in law and another relation in the fire.

“Corruption has engulfed the whole system. All government departments share equal responsibility,” he said.
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