Survivors narrate nightmarish experience

Published Sep 12, 2012 08:04pm

karachi-factory-fire-AFP-670
A relative of a garment factory worker argues with rescuers outside the factory in Karachi on Sept 12, 2012. — Photo by AFP

KARACHI, Sept 12: “The electricity went off with a sound of a blast, followed by four to five more explosions that filled the entire floor with poisonous gas. There was total chaos as people ran for safety but found no way to escape, because the main entrance and the gate on the second floor were closed,” says Shehzad Ali while narrating how he survived the devastating fire at the garment factory in Baldia.

“How the gates got closed on that day when they always remain open,” wonders 47-year-old Ali, who is currently under observation at surgical ward-II of the Civil Hospital Karachi, believing that the incident is somewhat like a conspiracy.

According to the survivors’ accounts, more than 500 people, including 50 women, were present inside the factory when the fire engulfed the building on Tuesday evening at around 6.30pm, half an hour before its closing time. Luckily, half of the over 1,000 factory employees had already left the premises by that time, some survivors at the hospital tell Dawn.

By Wednesday evening, the CHK has received 80 bodies and 35 injured.

Of the survivors, two victims with multiple fractures have been admitted to the main hospital, whereas another two are being treated at the burns centre.

Mr Ali, a daily wage earner at the factory, claims he was the first among the 15 to 20 people who jumped out of an iron-grilled window that they broke with the help of heavy sewing machines. Ali fell into a drain and received fractures on his pelvis and an arm.

“I’m thankful to God for saving my life but what about others and a pregnant woman who I left there,” he laments.

Unaware of the fate that was to befall them, all the workers were very happy as they had got their salaries. “We were sharing with each other how we are going to spend the money. My friend told me that he was to buy the monthly ration, while another said he had to pay school fee of his children,” he moans.

His wife, Gulshan, says her husband had started working at the factory last month after leaving a job due to his asthma. The couple lives in Musharraf Colony with their five children.

Mohammad Asif, 20, under treatment at the burns centre, is the only survivor out of the 200 people who were working on the factory’s third floor. He was fortunate that he didn’t get any fractures.

“The rescue staff made a hole in the window for us to come out. A rope was thrown towards me but I couldn’t make use of it and I jumped through the window in a desperate attempt to save my life since it was too much hot inside. I got my face and arms burnt when my body just touched the extremely hot window grilles, besides my foot also swelled,” he explains.

Mr Asif has seven siblings and lives in New Karachi. He worked as a helper at Ayesha Manzil before joining the factory seven months ago.

Man who lost seven family members

Also under treatment at the burns centre was Liaquat Hussain, 29, who lost seven family members, including his brother and uncle, in the fire.

He suffered burn wounds on his face, back and arms when he raced through the flames to save his life. He was a senior factory employee working as a production supervisor.

He says he helped 60 to 70 people pass through the gate on the back before it was all in flames that badly injured him. “I attempted to save my life when I realised that there was no chance to save colleagues, as all of them were lying unconscious on the floor.”

People were unable to see as there was no electricity and the entire place was filled with smoke, he adds.

More than 50 people of his village, he says, were working at the factory that he joined 14 years ago.

“I have no clue if they are alive. It was me who motivated them to come to work at the factory since they were all farmers and had plenty of free time once crops are sown. Poor conditions in the Punjab forced us to find work here,” he says.

Mr Hussain married with a son lives in a rented house in Mohajir Camp, Baldia Town. He appeals to the government to help victim families in transporting the bodies of their loved ones to their hometowns and giving them adequate financial support.

Strange it may seem but he spoke well of the two brothers, Shahid and Arshad, who run the factory and says they have always helped workers in their time of need.

Exits

The factory has front and back exits and had also installed oxygen cylinders. “It all happened within a span of a few minutes and the situation got aggravated because of pitch darkness and smoke.”

Resting at the hospital’s orthopedic ward with a fractured leg, Mohammad Rashid, however, says that only the second floor had two exits but both were in flames.

“We saw some light from the window and then ran towards it to break it open. I along with many people got down with the help of a rope,” he recalls.

He says he has no idea what happened to the many people present in the factory’s godown and on the third floor at that time.

The survivors share with Dawn different opinions about cause of the fire. While some believe it to be the result of a short circuit, others find a boiler explosion as its cause. However, they all agree that some four to six months ago, a fire was caused at the factory and at that time no blast was heard.

Fifteen-year-old Mohammad Mehrab is also at the burns centre, but not as a fire victim. He looks for his missing sister and brother-in-law, both worked at the factory.

Holding a picture in his hand, he says: “This is my sister, Rashida, and brother-in-law, Mohammad Nasir. I have been shuttling from one hospital to another for the past many hours to get a clue to their whereabouts but there was no help available,” he says.

The couple had come to Karachi from Bhawalpur a few years ago. “I have informed my parents back in the village but it will take them five to six days to come here because of bad weather conditions.”

About the situation at the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital, medical superintendent Dr Nadeem Rajput says 97 bodies have been brought to the hospital so far.

“Out of the nine injured, two have been hospitalised. One is getting treatment for burn injuries while the other is in the intensive care unit. Thirty-five bodies have been identified, while process is under way to identify the rest,” he said.

71 bodies at JPMC

At the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, 71 bodies have been brought here so far, says joint executive director of the hospital Dr Seemin Jamali while speaking to Dawn on Wednesday evening.

“There wasn’t a single case of injuries. Most bodies are completely burnt. The bodies of 28 men and four women have been identified, while other four women victims remain unidentified, she says.

Samples have been drawn from 19 bodies for the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) test that may help identify them, she adds.


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Comments (13) Closed




Fahad
Sep 13, 2012 01:24pm
Fire does not spread this wildly within minutes. Foul play can't be ruled out.
Javed
Sep 14, 2012 04:38am
Are you awaken? Do you have any plan, how would you do it? I am not questioning your motives/attitude but writing comments is too easy. And I am doing the same. It is a very tragic incident and by no means we can replace a human life. All prayers for victims and their family members.
PThind
Sep 13, 2012 04:20pm
Very sad and tragic.
assiya
Sep 13, 2012 09:38am
when is our nation going to wake up ??? what will it have to be for us to realize that our rulers have no respect for the poor.when are we going to raise our voices agaisnt them all ?????
Bharat
Sep 13, 2012 11:06pm
May Allah grant the highest place in jinnat to all the victims, AMEEN !! ... How many times have people been saying that in the last 60 years - and nothing happens? It is not Allah's responsibility - It is the peoples responsibility.
farhan
Sep 13, 2012 08:05am
Are there any safety guidelines for factory workers? If there are then is there any effective accountability system is in place? Every one knows the answer. No one is safe until we get rid of this corrput leadership. May Allah grant the highest place in jinnat to all the victims, AMEEN !!
Mohammad Ali
Sep 13, 2012 11:06am
For all those who have passed away in sheer agony, please pray for their soul may rest in eternal peace. But the real test for all of us including the Government and ruling Elite comes now. We must all make sure that their dependents, near and dear ones are fully compensated in every way to make them them truly responsible members of society. The education, marriage and other expenses are met for a long time until they can stand on their feet.
Haroon Ashraf
Sep 13, 2012 02:15pm
A tragic and shocking event. The irony is that we will forget it in a few days and there will be business as usual. Politicians of different rank and file will make fiery speeches for their political gains and mourners and the relatives of deceased will be left to endure and deal with it. I put forth a proposal on this forum and invite the response of the readers. What if some philanthropist come forward and establish a foundation or some institution so as to help the family members on permanent basis. A very smaller version of Fauji Foundation may be emulated to start with.
Bharat
Sep 13, 2012 11:07pm
And none of the tax payers are paying for this. Are you going to pay the taxes for all this?
junaid
Sep 13, 2012 05:43am
So tragic.
Amnah Butt
Sep 13, 2012 08:12am
Sad but true, we reap what we sow.
Emad
Sep 13, 2012 01:53pm
Inna Lillahi Wainna Ilehe Ra je-oon. May Allah grant Jannah for those who passed away, and give sabr to their families. Indeed this is a very sad incident. Lost of precious life :(
shamma parveen
Sep 13, 2012 09:04am
we atand together with victims at this moment of grief , lessons also for industrial units in india