KARACHI, Sept 12: There was no limit to confusion on Wednesday at the mortuaries of the city hospitals where the SITE factory inferno victims’ bodies had been brought for identification.
Families of the victims were running from pillar to post to seek information about their loved ones. It was only after having lost hope for their survival that they decided to steel themselves for sorrow and head for the mortuaries.
Outside the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre’s (JPMC) mortuary were Mohammad Amin and Noor Mohammad looking for their friend Mohammad Shafiq. “We know he is dead as he would have got in touch with us if he had been alive. We are here at the JPMC and three of his brothers are spread out at the Civil Hospital Karachi (CHK) and Abbasi Shaheed Hospital (ASH) and the Edhi morgue at Sohrab Goth,” said Noor Mohammad.
Sitting in a chair at a roadside camp set up in front of the JPMC was Dilawar Hussain looking for his son Asif Aziz. “I have spent the entire night looking for him at the CHK and ASH and now I’m here at the JPMC, but there is no sign of him here as well,” he cried showing his son’s photograph.
“He was wearing a black T-shirt and off-white pants when he left for work on Tuesday.”
A young man waiting beside his motorcycle said that he had found the bodies of his maternal uncle and his son at the JPMC but four of their family members were still missing. “All the six worked in the same factory,” he said. “I’ll go to the other places to look for them there.”
At the CHK, there was a frantic Syed Nadeem looking for his sister-in-law Seema and brother-in-law Shahnawaz. “Both brother and sister worked in the stitching department of the factory,” he said. “I just got a phone call from someone we know saying that he had spotted the corpse of a girl in the CHK mortuary with her hand holding a blue mobile phone to her ear. Our Seema had a blue mobile phone. We came running to this place but can’t see her.”
Meanwhile, the upper part of a woman’s body lay on a stretcher outside the mortuary door. It was covered with a sheet but the long light brown hair was hanging out indicating the gender.
The stench from the dead hung heavily in the air. One man with a crazed look in his eyes hurried out from inside the mortuary to bend over and throw up as he cried.
“I just can’t find him. I’ve been looking everywhere since last night,” said Abbas Ali there looking for his cousin Mohammad Iqbal. “He worked in the cutting department in the basement,” he said. “His friends who were able to make it out of the place in one piece say that he was right behind them one moment and missing the next. They kept calling out to him but never got a reply.”
Hamad was looking for his friend Nazim Moin. He said he was an engineer. “I’ve come to the CHK now after looking for him at the JPMC,” he said.
Mohammad Ismail said he had also searched for his nephew Iqbal Ghanchi’s remains at the Edhi morgue and at the JPMC, but to no avail. “He had been working at the factory for 12 years, stitching jeans,” he said.
Two Edhi ambulances carrying the bodies of a man, Rafiq Ahmed, and his son, Mohammad Shoaib, stood ready to drive off to their place. The victims’ family stood nearby. “We have been looking for 10 members of our family and have found only three so far,” said Khurshid Ahmed, who identified his father and two brothers from the factory identification cards around their necks.
Abbas, a cousin of another victim, Abid Ali, a machine operator, identified him from his wrist watch and three gold rings first and then the face. “Masha Allah, his body wasn’t burnt as badly as that of others as he must have died from suffocation,” he said.
“I had given up my search for him at the CHK at around 4am on Wednesday and was looking for him at the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital when I got a phone call from someone we know looking for their relative at the CHK. They couldn’t find their relative but informed me that they had seen mine here so I rushed right back to find him here.”
Umer Khan was looking for his son Habib Khan. “This is his picture.” He held out the young man’s CNIC to the media. “Have you seen him? His mother has gone mad with grief,” he cried. “My son is 21 years old and had been employed in the packing section at the factory for five years. He is my eldest child.”
Two sisters with their parents were looking for Riaz Ahmed, one sister’s husband, and Rafaqat Ali, their brother. “My husband called me after the fire broke out at the factory. He called several times to inform me that he was looking for my brother while trying to get out. His last call was made at around 6pm on Tuesday,” said Nazia, the elder sister with tears running down her face.
“They worked in a place built like a prison. I know they never made it out or else we would have heard from them,” said the girls’ father, Liaquat Ali.
Amin Iqbal said he was looking for his cousin Ali Shareef and was sure he had not made it after receiving a phone call from a volunteer but from his dead cousin’s mobile. “The volunteer told me that he had called the first number stored in the mobile phone that he found in the trouser pocket of a dead body to inform of what had happened. He said the body was lying at a hospital but never told us which one. Now we have members of our family at all the hospitals and mortuaries where they are bringing in the bodies,” he said. “No luck so far,” he said, shaking his head in disappointment.