KARACHI, Jan 16: Hopes of rescuing alive the four firemen trapped under the rubble of the fire-wrecked factory faded on Tuesday as a rescue operation, supervised by army men, entered its second day.
Five firemen were killed and 18 injured on Monday when a four-storey garment factory caved in after a devastating blaze in the Site area.
An injured fireman succumbed to injuries at the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital on Tuesday, taking the death toll to six.
Rescue workers say the main problem impeding the rescue operation of the trapped victims is the strewn debris comprising large boulders covering the entire accident site.
Heavy equipment such as crane-drillers and shovels are being used for removing the debris from the rear and front of the collapsed four-storey portion of the factory, but the operation is proceeding at an extremely slow pace, unable to penetrate through the debris from the collapsed ceilings of three floors where the victims still lie buried.
Ali Manzil, a fireman, told Dawn that the rescue workers had identified the four firemen trapped under the rubble as Ahmed Noor, Naseer, Fareed Khan, and Fire Officer Imtiazul Haq.
He said one of the fireman, Ghulam Ali, was also trapped with other firemen when the building caved in but, “he managed to come out of the debris and told us that the fire officer and three other firemen, who were with him when the building collapsed, were still down there.”
Fireman Shakeel said the rescue workers had managed to enter a part of the collapsed building through the rubble and they had seen the body of Ahmed Noor stuck under a pillar. “But they couldn’t get through to Noor as it was impossible to take out the body from the heavy pillar, and had to come out of the collapsed structure, without him,” he said.
Another rescue worker said the pace of the rescue operation was too slow mainly because of restricted space for moving in the rescue equipment. “It could take another 24 hours to remove the debris.”
The watchman of the factory, Raees Khan, said that he had seen an electric cable giving off sparks from the ground floor before the fire engulfed the fabric godown of the stitching department of the factory. “I along with other employees tried to extinguish the fire with fire extinguishers, but it spread rapidly,” he said.
He said as many as 22 labourers were hired to remove the material from the gutted section and some of them were believed to have been inside the godown when the building collapsed.
Station Fire Officer of the Naval Fire Service Qabil Shah said that four fire engines from the NFS were also performing the rescue service. “The collapsed building is still smouldering,” he added.
The SFO has said as many as 106 rescue workers from the NFS are involved in the rescue operation which is continuing round the clock.
An army major, who is supervising the rescue operation with his strong team, told Dawn that the main problem in the rescue operation was that there was no drawing/plans of the building’s layout available. “We are here for support since last night and have guided the rescue workers in the use of the equipment,” he added.
Nazeer Mohammed, a fireman from the Central Fire Station, appearing confounded by the situation on the ground said the buildings did not collapse due to the intensity of fire.
“I have never seen such a building collapse due to fire in my 23-years of service,” he remarked. The fireman indicated that the building most probably collapsed due to the sub-standard material used in the construction.
“I have heard people say that two of the pillars of the collapsed building were too weak, to withstand any kind of shock,” he said, adding “and since the collapsed building is too narrow, this is resulting in a great deal of problem for the rescue workers, as only one machine, whether it be a driller or shovel, can be moved in at a time.”