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At least 289 people killed in Karachi garment fire

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 12th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

At least 289 people have been estimated killed in a garment factory fire in the port town of Karachi, Pakistan. The factory is believed to have held as many as 400 to 500 workers. Officials at the scene say the figure is only set to rise.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A child is reported among the dead, and at least 25 people have been injured, a Karachi Fire Department official said. All the victims were employees of the Ali Enterprises factory.

Firefighters tried to control the blaze, but the flames had dangerously weakened the building. The building might collapse any time because the fire heavily damaged parts of its steel structure.

Dozens of bodies may be trapped in the basement of the building. Several trapped workers jumped from upper floors.

Large crowds of friends and relatives have been shown outside the smoldering building on local TV. The people inside the factory were trapped inside as the building had metal grilles on the windows and no fire exits.

It was a grisly day for industrial fires in Pakistan. The blaze began hours after a blaze at a Lahore shoe factory killed 25 people, highlighting lax safety regulations.

Investigations have been announced into both fires. There are suspicions that the fire was sparked by faulty generators.

Industries across Pakistan are notoriously prone to disaster, usually due to the collapse of poorly constructed premises. Fires remain the main danger.

Enforcement of safety laws in the country is notoriously spotty. Industrial standards are disregarded to minimize cost as inspectors are paid to look the other way.

Clothing factories are particularly at risk due to the lethal combination of chemical dyes and stacks of cotton often stored next to each other - ensuring a deadly result.

Fire exits in many factories exist only on paper, a factor in raising casualty figures. The city administration itself has a limited number of fire engines to serve the growing needs of an increasingly sprawling metropolis.

A small and controllable mistake can immediately turn deadly from years of official disregard for workers' safety. That in turn produces such tragedies - which are then covered up, only to be repeated a few months later.

Workers had little or not time to escape from the four-story building's single exit. Many could do so only by jumping from the windows.

One survivor says that there was a stampede as the fire spread. He ended up jumping from the third floor, but five members of his family did not escape.

"We started running towards the exit. There were 150-200 people all running and pushing each other. I fell down unconscious," he told TV reporters.

"Then I managed to get some air from a vent. I started screaming. A crane made a hole in the wall and I was able to jump. I begged the rescue workers to help my relatives, but no-one paid any attention."

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