KARACHI: The death toll in the garment factory fire in Baldia Town has risen to 289, raising fresh concerns about workplace safety, officials said Wednesday.
Commissioner Karachi, Roshan Ali Skeikh while speaking to Geo News said the condition of the factory had deteriorated to such a point that it could collapse at any moment. Roshan added that the investigation report of the incident would be completed in three days.
According to provincial health minister Dr. Sagheer Ahmed, 80 bodies were taken to Civil Hospital, 95 to Abbasi Hospital and 71 were taken to Jinnah Hospital.
Abdus Salam, a doctor at Karachi's Civil Hospital, said 10 women garment makers were among the dead.
"The bodies are badly charred. At least 65 other workers suffered broken bones after jumping out of windows to escape the flames," Salam added.
Karachi fire chief Ehtesham Salim said firemen were searching every corner of the building despite limited resources.
He called the factory dangerous, saying it had been flimsily built, lacked emergency exits and had developed cracks in the walls, which was also putting rescue workers at risk.
"It was packed like a box with little room left for ventilation. There were no emergency exits," Salim said.
"We found people who died of suffocation caused by the highly toxic smoke. They died first and then their bodies were burned by the raging fire," he said.
Salim said dozens of fire engines were scrambled to the scene of the tragedy.
"Most of the fire has been extinguished, but there it is smouldering in some parts due to the plastics and chemicals," he said.
Salim said the disaster was Karachi's "biggest fire in terms of deaths in decades".
In January 2009, 40 people were killed, more than half of them children, when a fire engulfed dozens of wooden homes in Karachi's impoverished Baldia neighbourhood.
Firefighters on crane lifts reached through windows of the gutted building to rescue some trapped survivors, who were taken to hospitals suffering from burns and smoke inhalation.
Mohammad Saleem, 32, who broke a leg after jumping out of the second floor, said he and his colleagues were hard at work late Tuesday.
"It was terrible, suddenly the entire floor filled with fire and smoke and the heat was so intense that we rushed towards the windows, broke its steel grille and glass and jumped out," Saleem told.
"I fell on the ground and it was extremely painful, I saw many people jumping out of windows and crying in pain for help," he said.
Officials said the cause of the fire was unknown but Rauf Siddiqi, the industry minister for southern province Sindh said the owner was under investigation for negligence.
"We have ordered an inquiry into how the fire erupted and why proper emergency exits were not provided at the factory so that the workers could escape," Siddiqi said.
Siddiqi has tasked the concerned authorities to come up with a report on the incident within 24 hours.