DHAKA: A fire swept through a garment factory on the outskirts of Bangladesh’s capital, killing at least 120 people, the chief of the fire brigade said on Sunday, in the worst accident for the booming industry in recent years.
The fire at the nine-story factory in the Ashulia industrial belt started on the ground floor late on Saturday and quickly spread, trapping hundreds of workers.
“This morning we have recovered 120 dead bodies and the death toll could rise,” Abu Nayeem Mohammad Shahidullah, director general of the fire brigade, told reporters.
Bangladesh has around 4,500 garment factories that make clothes for brands including Tesco, Wal-Mart, JC Penney, H&M, Marks & Spencer, Kohl’s and Carrefour.
Witnesses said the workers, mostly women, ran for safety as the fire engulfed the plant, but were unable to come out through narrow exits.
“Many jumped out from the windows and were injured, or died on the spot,” Milon, a resident, said
The fire leapt high into the sky and could be seen from miles away.
Bangladesh is the world’s biggest exporter of clothing after China, with garments making up 80% of its $24 billion annual exports.
But safety standards at the factories are poor and not enforced strictly, causing scores of accidents each year.
“We are appalled to see the charred bodies coming out of the factory since last night. It was an endless stream,” Milon said.
Saturday’s fire was the worst in years and rescuers and police said the death count may surpass any previous toll.
Earlier this year, more than 300 factories near the capital were shut for almost a week as workers demanded higher wages and better working conditions.