Photo: The Associated Press
Factory fires in Pakistan’s two biggest cities have killed 261 people in a disaster blamed on barred windows, shoddy building standards and the flouting of basic safety regulations.In the coastal megalopolis of Karachi 191 people were killed after becoming trapped in an underwear factory that caught fire on Tuesday evening. Many others were injured after trying to escape by jumping out of high windows of the five-floor building, including a pregnant woman.
That fire came just hours after a similar tragedy in an illegally built shoe factory in Pakistan’s second largest city, Lahore, which killed 25.
Pakistani television broadcast harrowing footage of the worst industrial disaster to hit Karachi in decades.
Rescue workers said the factory was a death-trap, with many of the 200 overtime workers thought to be inside at the time having no chance to escape the flames and toxic fumes.
Mohammad Ilyas, one of the injured workers, said he had been with about 50 other men and women on one of the floors when a fireball suddenly erupted from the staircase.
“I jumped from my seat as did others and rushed toward the windows, but iron bars on the windows barred us from escaping. Some of us quickly took tools and machines to break the iron bars,” he said.
The tragedy will focus attention on the weak workplace safety regime in a country that relies heavily on its low-cost garment and textile industries for vital export earnings.
“There were no safety measures taken in the building design. There was no emergency exit. All the people got trapped,” said a senior police official, Amjad Farooqi.
The lack of emergency exits was also blamed for the death toll in Lahore in a shoe factory illegally built in a residential area of the city.
The efforts of firefighters and ambulances were hindered by huge crowds of onlookers.
One rescue officer, Ahmad Raza, told the Dawn newspaper that the fire had been triggered by faulty wiring in one part of the building, which he said ignited nearby chemicals that had not been properly stored.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
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