Islamabad: More than 300 people met a macabre death when fire razed two factories, one in Karachi and the other in Lahore. The bigger of the two tragedies took place in the port city where at least 289 people died in one of the worst infernos that Pakistan has seen in recent times.
On Tuesday afternoon, a fire enveloped a shoe factory in the eastern metropolis of Lahore, killing 25 people. A few hours later in the evening, a massive blaze broke out in a garments factory in Karachi's Baldia Town, leaving 289 people dead overnight.
In Karachi, there were so many bodies sent to hospitals that there was not enough space for them at the mortuaries.
At least 1,000 workers were present inside the Karachi factory at the time of the fire, when they had gone to receive their salaries, Geo News reported.
Many of the bodies were burnt beyond recognition, officials said. At least 26 of the 60 bodies identified were handed over to their family members. "We found dozens of people dead in a large room of the factory's basement. It was totally burnt and parts of it were smouldering, which we put out before taking the bodies to hospitals," quoted Karachi fire chief Ehtesham Salim as saying.
Desperate relatives wailed as rescuers scrambled to help the trapped workers.
Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah has announced compensation for the families of the victims and those who were injured. Rs 300,000 will be given to the families of the dead and Rs 50,000 for the injured.
The toll steadily climbed through the night as body after body was brought out of the burnt building. Women and children are also among the dead and injured.
Several workers of the factory were injured as they jumped out of windows of the four-storey building in a bid to save their lives. Mohammad Saleem (32), who broke a leg after jumping out of the second floor, told that he and his colleagues were hard at work when the incident occurred. "It was terrible, suddenly the entire floor filled with fire and smoke and the heat was so intense that we rushed towards the window, broke its steel grille and glass and jumped out," he said.
Abdus Salam, a doctor at Karachi's Civil Hospital, described the factory as dangerous since it was flimsily built, did not have emergency exits and developed cracks in the walls. Karachi Commissioner Roshan Ali Sheikh said that the mass casualties of the fire happened due to the closure of the emergency exits by the factory's owner.
Hospital sources said that many of the victims died due to suffocation.
All the firefighting force in Karachi had been marshalled to fight the blaze. At least 40 fire tenders doused it. Snorkels were also used to bring the people down from the roof of the factory, which turned into a ball of fire.
Sources said that around 2,000 people were employed at the 2,000 square-yard garment factory.
In the second major fire incident, 25 people died after a fire broke out in shoe sole making factory in Lahore. The owner of the factory and his son were among the dead. At least 45 people were at work when the fire engulfed the factory located in a narrow-street.
The inaccessible location of the factory made it difficult for the firefighters to douse the flames and rescue those trapped inside. Rescuers had to punch holes through the walls and shatter the windows to enter the building to get the injured out.
An official said that an electric generator explosion set the chemicals and plastic granules on fire.
Several cottage industries that operate out of residential houses are located in the Band Road area of Lahore.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik was quoted by the media as saying that the Federal Investigation Agency was probing the fires, that broke out in Karachi and Lahore on the same day, to find out any link with terrorism.
A murder case has been lodged against the owner and management of the Karachi garment factory, according to the Sindh information minister.
The chief justice of the Sindh High Court has taken notice of the garment factory fire. A petition was filed in the High Court over the fire, following which notices were issued to the secretary for Industries, municipal commissioner, deputy attorney general, inspector general of Sindh Police and director general of Rangers.