KARACHI: Shahzad Ali swung a sewing machine into the window to smash it.
He is one of the 35 injured workers who were brought to Civil hospital from the inferno that broke out in the garments factory off Hub River Road. He jumped from the second floor. He’s been admitted to surgical ward No. 2 where he can’t stop crying. His neck and legs have been injured. He is covered in bandages.
Those who were lucky to get out are haunted by the images of their colleagues being swallowed up by the flames. Bakhtiar Gul, who was a mechanic on the third floor of the adjoining block, remembers waiting for his salary, as it was a pay day. “Suddenly, there were flames and we gathered at the other end of the room,” he said. Alert people outside threw them a rope and he managed to get himself and five to six women out of the room. “Everyone wanted to get out. I saw people behind me on fire,” he said terrified.
The fire is believed to have started off in the ‘washing and cutting’ warehouse of the factory, before it reached the third floor stitching room. Around 100 to 150 people were said to be in it at the time. But there are no survivors.
From the rooftop of the adjoining block, volunteers tried to get into the stitching room with water pipes to cool it down.
Rescue workers going inside would come out coughing, and gasping for breath. Sitting disorientated at one end was Shakeel and his friends. They were in the finishing room, when they heard the sound of fire. “We managed to get out of the building through the main gate. But it was horrible. All night, we saw the bodies of our friends being pulled out.”
There were an estimated 700 workers at the factory. The deaths are numbered at 289.
Around 80 bodies were brought to Civil hospital, 71 to Jinnah hospital and 96 to Abbasi Shaheed Hospital.
Later, unidentified bodies were taken to the Edhi morgue. Spokesperson Anwar Kazmi told The Express Tribune that out of the 110 bodies, 60 have been handed over to their heirs.
It was much worse at the Civil hospital morgue, where charred bodies were laid on the floor as space ran out. One with a nametag of Rashid Bibi was found outside the door. A group of women who had come to find their neighbor could not take the sight of burnt flesh and left.
Khalid had come to look for his brother, Amir Aftab, a 22-year-old worker. “It was so unfortunate. He always used to work on the second floor, but that day he worked on the floor where the fire was at its worst and left no survivors.”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 13th, 2012.