Pakistan factory fires: At least 314 workers burn to death

AT LEAST 314 people burned to death as fire swept through factories in two cities in Pakistan on Tuesday night, police and government officials have said, raising questions about industrial safety in the south Asian nation.

• Death toll rises to 314 in Karachi factory fires

• Dozens more injured as firefighters continue to tame blaze

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Flames raced through a garment factory in the commercial capital of Karachi, killing 289 people. Many people had been lining up to collect their pay cheques, officials said.

Weeping relatives in hospitals and morgues yesterday heaped criticism on the 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 in a shoe ­factory, killing at least 25 people.

Critics say nuclear-armed Pakistan’s corrupt and ineffective government has failed to tackle the country’s problems. The country is racked by Taleban 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 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 labour and safety regulations were not applied, government sources said.

At a Karachi hospital, about 30 bodies burnt beyond recognition were lined up at a morgue.

“There is no space left here. It’s full,” said ambulance worker Wasif Ali. “They keep coming.”

Senior superintendent of police Amir Farooqi said police were raiding buildings in different parts of Karachi to search for the factory owners.

Mr Farooqi said 35 people were injured in the garment factory fire and bodies were still being recovered from the facility, which employed 450 people. The latest death toll was 289, said police official Fayyaz Leghari.

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. Several wept. 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.

“We saw our colleagues burning alive in flames,” said Shabdir Hussain, from his hospital bed.