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January 23, 2020

Around 500 people rendered homeless as blaze reduces shanty town to ashes

Karachi

January 23, 2020

Residents of a shanty town in Teen Hatti along the bank of the Lyari River had access to shelters only made of bamboos and panaflex posters, under which they braved the harshest winters for years. However, a fire erupting possibly from a mud lamp on the night between Tuesday and Wednesday, which quickly spread due to gusty winds, caused all their little homes to perish overnight.

Though no life was fortunately lost in the blaze that reduced the entire shanty town under the Teen Hatti bridge to ashes, the slum dwellers have been rendered homeless with nothing over them to protect them from the cold weather. The blaze that broke out late on Tuesday night destroyed more than 180 huts, a majority of which belonged to the people of Hindu community. The incident deprived around 500 people of their homes. Several people trapped in the inferno were rescued by personnel of the law enforcement agencies, the fire brigade department and volunteers of welfare organisations.

Initially, three fire tenders, rescue teams and a large contingent of police reached the scene and attempted to bring the fire under control. However, more fire tenders had to come which controlled the blaze after a hectic effort of two hours, by which time many residents of the slum had lost their homes.

An emergency was also declared at all the hydrants in the city by the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board as several tankers from NIPA and Sakhi Hassan water hydrants were dispatched to the location to help the firefighters.

As the flames began to engulf the shanties, their occupants panicked and tried to salvage their belongings. Some were fortunate to have save some of their possessions while others could only save their lives. When they came again in search of their belongings, they could found only ashes.

“Already we had nothing enough but now we have enough ashes,” says one of the victims. “The weather is too cold and we have nothing to save our children from the cold weather and fast winds or to feed them.”

Speaking to the media at the site on Wednesday, the union council chairman, Shaheen Tahir, said all the 180 huts were gutted by the fire. However, he maintained that temporary housing arrangements for the affected people were being made at a government school in Liaquatabad.

A spokesperson for the fire brigade said a total of 10 fire tenders participated in the extinguishing work and the firefighters took around two hours to douse the blaze. He added that fast winds had caused the fire to spread quickly.

Fruit vendor Birju, son of Moti Lal, said his was the shack where the fire erupted. He explained that he lived along with his family in the shanty town, and that his mother was at her brother’s house and his brothers had gone to work when the fire erupted.

He said his younger sister and a minor niece were at home when the incident occurred. “My sister lit the Charagh [lamp] and placed it on the wooden box and then I left to take bread from the Tandoor,” he explained. “My niece had come out of the hut to play when suddenly some combustible item caught fire from the Charagh and the entire hut caught fire from it.”

He said he found the entire shanty town in flames when he returned after buying bread. Several welfare organisations have started to provide food and other necessary items to the affected people. Pakistan Peoples Party leader and Sindh Information Minister Saeed Ghani also visited the shanty town where he distributed food and tents among the affected people. The Sindh Rangers also distributed food, warm clothes, blankets, shoes and tents among them.

Police said they were recording the statements of the dwellers who had lost their homes; however, so far the police had not found find any criminal element behind the incident and the fire had apparently erupted due to negligence.

Inquiry committee

Karachi Commissioner Iftikhar Ali Shallwani has constituted an inquiry committee to ascertain the facts of the blaze.

The committee is comprised of the District Central deputy commissioner as its chairman, superintendent of police, Liaquatabad, chief fire officer, District Municipal Corporation Central municipal commissioner and forensic expert from the University of Karachi.

The terms of reference for the committee include determining the cause of fire and ascertaining the facts leading to its occurrence, proposing measures to be taken to avoid such fire incidents in the future and fixing the responsibility under the Code of Criminal Procedure for criminal negligence, if any. The inquiry shall be completed within two weeks starting from the issuance of the notification.