The official death toll from a garment factory fire in Baldia Town area of Karachi has been revised downwards to 258 from 289, as the city's top administration official said Wednesday.
"The death toll is 258. This is not final, search for more bodies continues," commissioner Karachi Roshan Shaikh said.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Shaikh said that the dead also included women and children, adding that 95 bodies were shifted to Abbasi Shaheed Hospital, 71 at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre and 92 at the Civil Hospital, Karachi.
Amongst the dead, DNA samples of 85 bodies have been obtained, however their identities could not be ascertained yet.
Unidentified bodies were shifted to the Edhi morgue where an information cell was also established to help the families to identify their missing loved ones.
Earlier at the site of the incident, Karachi police chief Iqbal Mahmood had said rescue teams were still trying to gain access to parts of the factory, which caught fire late on Tuesday, and the death toll could rise.
The chief justice of Sindh High Court has taken a suo motu notice of the fire incident.
An initial report of the incident has been submitted to the Sindh government.
According to the report, workers had arrived at the factory to receive their pays at the time of the incident and all doors had been closed to prevent theft.
Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Inam Memon confirmed the findings, adding that the shut exit doors resulted in the massive loss of life.
Memon said the government would bear all the expenses of those who were injured.
Sindh Governor Ishratul Ebad said that appropriate action will be taken against those responsible for the incident. “We will inquire against the owner of the factory. We have even put his name in the ECL (Exit Control List),” he told the media. He has also announced a day of mourning on the city on Wednesday.
The factory belongs to Ali Enterprises, which is owned by Abdul Aziz and Shahid Bhaila. The company is a member of the Pakistan Hosiery Association and an active sales and income tax filer.
Express News correspondent Nadeem Ahmed reported that the basement is now being emptied of water and then the bodies, around 50 in number, will be recovered.
The Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) has announced of waiving all existing outstanding electricity bills of the affected families.
According to a press release published online, the KESC said that the electricity bill payment for the next six months will also be exempted for the bereaved families.
Fire department officials said that they had managed to control fire in most parts of the factory and were now trying to recover bodies from the building.
The factory structure, having been exposed to a sweltering blaze for over eight hours, was now in a precarious condition with cracks appearing in its walls. The building had sagged from one side and rescue officials too had warned that the building could collapse at any moment.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) announced it would mark three days of mourning to mark the deaths of the scores of people killed in factory fires in Karachi and Lahore.
In a statement issued early Wednesday morning, the party announced that it would put up black flags at MQM offices and party activists would wear black armbands as well as attend the funerals of those killed. The party clarified that businesses would remain open on its day of mourning.
MQM chief Altaf Hussain and the Coordination Committee have asked the provincial governments of Sindh and Punjab to investigate what transpired and take action against those responsible for the fires.
In a statement, Altaf asked the provincial governments to make this a matter of priority and to inform people of the facts within three days, otherwise the MQM would have no choice but to make its own policy to protect people’s lives.
Updated from print edition below
Karachi garment factory fire kills 20
While some parts of Karachi were dealing with flooding from heavy rain, at least 20 people were killed and about two dozen others were wounded when a huge blaze gutted a garment factory on the city’s outskirts on Tuesday evening. Some two dozen people were still trapped inside the building at last report.
So potent was the blaze that firefighters admitted they were unable to complete the rescue operation due to the intensity of the fire and shortage of water – despite help from the Pakistan Navy’s firefighting team. “There is so much heat that we cannot even enter the building and just hosing down from the outside,” said Chief Fire Officer Ehtishamuddin Siddiqui. “The fire needs to be extinguished from above and we have called the Pakistan Air Force for help.”
He said that there were about 1,500 workers present in the three-storey, 2,000-sq-yard factory located on Hub River Road when the fire broke at around 6 pm. Authorities claimed that around 100 trapped workers were rescued by the firefighters and locals; however, there are fears that the death toll could increase. There were reports that one child was also among the dead.
Earlier, according to sources at the Civil Hospital, the bodies of twelve men and three women were brought to the hospital. They added that more than two dozen injured victims were also brought in.
At least 22 fire vehicles were at the site. District West SSP Amir Farooqui said that an exact death toll could not be ascertained until the fire was extinguished. He further said that the cause of the fire is still unknown, adding that an inquiry would be conducted in this regard.
The commissioner of Karachi has ordered police to lodge an FIR against the factory owner.
Terming it a third degree fire, fire brigade officials said the blaze had completely engulfed and damaged the infrastructure of the building.
They further said that the rescue mission was really difficult as there is only one exit in the building.
CFO Ehtishamuddin also said that the fire fighters were facing several problems “Right now, we are trying to get inside the factory, where we fear we will find more bodies,” he said. In an attempt to save their lives, many trapped workers broke doors and windows, and jumped off the building, before the fire fighters arrived at the site.
Extra contingents of Rangers and police also reached the site to avoid any untoward incident as scores of people, including workers of nearby factories and victims’ relatives, gathered outside. According to reports, the crowd also tried to participate in the rescue operation, which sparked off a scuffle with law enforcers.
While protesting against the fire brigade and other officials present at the site, the crowd said that there would have been no loss of life or property if the fire brigade reached on time.
Pakistan Air Force spokesman Nadeem Khan, when contacted, said that nobody has approached PAF regarding an air operation, adding that they would participate in the operation if they are called. “We have no such aircraft that can specifically be used to extinguish the fire from the air,” said the spokesman. “We can utilise a C-130 aircraft if required.”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th, 2012.
A slideshow of the incident can be viewed here.