More than 300 people die in factory fires in Karachi and Lahore
At least 314 people have been burnt to death as fire swept through factories in two cities in Pakistan, raising questions about industrial safety in the south Asian nation.
Flames raced through a garment factory yesterday in the commercial capital of Karachi, killing 289 people, said senior police official Fayyaz Leghari. The factory employed about 450 people and many had been lining up to collect their pay cheques, officials said.
Weeping relatives in hospitals and morgues heaped criticism on the deeply unpopular government.
“People started screaming for their lives,” said Mohammad Asif (20). “Everyone came to the window. I jumped from the third floor.”
In the eastern city of Lahore, a fire raged through a shoe factory, killing at least 25 people.
Critics say Pakistan’s corrupt and ineffective government has failed to tackle the country’s problems. The country is racked by a Taliban insurgency, widespread poverty, spiralling crime and daily power cuts.
“The owners were more concerned with safeguarding the garments in the factory than the workers,” said factory employee Mohammad Pervez, holding up a photograph of his cousin, who is also a worker there and is missing.
“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.”
Yesterday, a provincial minister ordered an inspection of all factories and industrial plants in Sindh province within 48 hours. Karachi, home to 18 million people, is Sindh’s capital.
A preliminary provincial government report on the Lahore fire concluded that the closure of the emergency exits led to the deaths and that labour and safety regulations were not applied, government sources said.
Smoke was still rising from the factory as rescue workers pulled out charred corpses and covered them in white sheets. Relatives of workers stood in the street awaiting word of their fate. The cause of the fire was not clear.
“Within two minutes there was fire in the entire factory,” said worker Liaqat Hussain (29) from his hospital bed where he was being treated for burns all over his body. “The gate was closed. There was no access to get out, we were trapped inside.”
In Lahore, workers at the shoe factory suspected that the fire was caused by a generator problem. “We saw our colleagues burning alive, in flames,” said Shabdir Hussain from his hospital bed. “We could do nothing. We saved our lives by jumping from the roof.”
Successive governments have been unable to provide a reliable power supply so factories have to have their own generators, powered by diesel or petrol, if they want to avoid regular and lengthy power cuts.