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Pakistan factory fires kill over 300 people

Karachi and Lahore infernos raise questions about safety regulations

The fire at the textile factory in Karachi was Pakistan?s worst industrial accident, according to officials
The fire at the textile factory in Karachi was Pakistan?s worst industrial accident, according to officials

Factory fires in Karachi and Lahore have claimed over 300 lives, raising questions about the lack of regulation in a vital sector of Pakistan’s faltering economy, New York Times reports.

Fire ravaged a textile factory complex in the commercial hub of Karachi, killing almost 300 workers trapped behind locked doors.

It was Pakistan’s worst industrial accident, officials said, and it came just hours after another fire at a shoe factory in the eastern city of Lahore had killed at least 25.

Flames and smoke swept the Karachi textile factory in Baldia Town, a northwestern industrial suburb, creating panic among the hundreds of poorly-paid workers who had been making undergarments and plastic tools.

They had few options of escape as every exit but one had been locked, officials said, and the windows were mostly barred. Some flung themselves from the top floors of the four-storey building, sustaining serious injuries or worse, witnesses said. But many others failed to make it that far, trapped by an inferno that advanced through a building that officials later described as a death trap.

Rescue workers said most of the victims died of smoke inhalation, and many of the survivors sustained third-degree burns. As firefighters advanced into the wreckage during the day, battling back flames, they found dozens of bodies clumped together on the lower floors.

One survivor, Muhammad Aslam, said he heard two loud blasts before the factory filled first with smoke, then with the screams of his fellow workers. “Only one entrance was open. All the others were closed,” he said at a hospital, describing scenes of panic and chaos.

Aslam, who was being treated for a broken leg, said he saved himself by leaping from a third-floor window.

By evening, the Karachi commissioner, Roshan Ali Sheikh, said that 289 people had died, most of them men. The provincial health minister, Sagheer Ahmed, put the number at 248, which he said was the number of bodies accounted for at major hospitals. The number was expected to rise further.

In the shoe factory fire in Lahore, 25 people were reported killed and dozens wounded. Officials said that blaze had been set off by a generator that caught fire and ignited chemicals stored nearby in the factory, illegally located in a residential neighbourhood. 

Police raided the home of the owner of the Karachi factory, Abdul Aziz, who appeared to have gone into hiding. According to an online business information service, his company, Ali Enterprises, manufactured denim, knitted garments and hosiery and had capital of between $10m and $50m.

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