KARACHI: Sixteen factory workers were suffocated to death on Friday after a fire, apparently caused by a short circuit, filled an industrial unit in the city with smoke, according to officials and witnesses.
It was at around 10am when the fire erupted under the stairs of the ground-plus-two-storey factory, situated in Mehran Town of Korangi Industrial Area, and spread rapidly to other places due to some ‘adhesive chemicals’ kept there, with the result that labourers on the first floor got trapped, the officials and witnesses said.
Initial investigation identified short circuit as the cause of fire, while a post-mortem examination revealed cardio-respiratory failure, secondary to asphyxia, caused by inhalation of smoke and soot from the fire led to suffocation and subsequent death.
Five members of an extended family, including three brothers, were among the victims.
“We received 16 people who were brought dead at Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre,” said Additional Police Surgeon Dr Summaiya Syed, adding that all the victims aged between 18 and 38 years.
Autopsy confirms inhalation of smoke, soot as cause of deaths
She said the bodies of 15 persons were taken away by their relatives after identifying them, while DNA sample was taken from the unidentified body. The deceased were identified as Ali Muneer, Hanan Saleem, Rashid Husain, Mohammad Kashif, Mohammad Shoaib, Irfan Ahsan, Farhan Ahsan, Farman Ahsan, Mohammad Sabir, Mohammad Usman, Syed Mohammad Jawad, Zahid, Usman Khan, Farman Saleem and Adnan Yaqub.
A senior officer who wished not to be named said the factory manufactured trolley bags and adhesive chemicals were kept there. When the fire broke out, it spread rapidly because of presence of chemicals and more deaths occurred. The factory was located in a congested area and it was obvious that safety measures were not in place, the officer believed.
A fire brigade official said they received information about the blaze at 10:08am and sent fire tenders at 10:10am. After hectic efforts lasting several hours, 15 fire tenders managed to douse the blaze in the evening, he explained.
Korangi SSP Shah Jahan Khan said: “Sixteen bodies were recovered from the factory.” He said a resident of the neighbourhood died of heart attack when he heard about the tragic death of his son in the factory.
The SSP said it would be thoroughly probed as to how the fire had erupted and caused more than a dozen deaths.
Emotional scenes were witnessed outside the JPMC mortuary where the bodies were being brought.
One grief-stricken survivor, Abdul Rehman, told Dawn his brother, Farman, died in the factory. He said he also worked in the same B.M. factory and was on the ground floor when the fire broke out around 9:15am or so. He said the blaze erupted due to short circuit under the stairs where the briefcases and bags being manufactured were kept. As the fire engulfed the factory, his brother and other co-workers who were trapped on the first floor could not descend. Initially, he said he along with some other workers tried to put off the fire and their efforts were joined by people from neighbouring areas. He complained that the fire tenders had arrived late.
The labourer said his brother had been working at the unit for past one year while he had joined the factory some three months back after shifting from Hyderabad to the Liaquatabad area of Karachi.
Nadeem said he lost his five close relatives, all residents of Garden area. They were his brother Ali, nephew Hasan, and his two brothers-in-law namely Farman and Fareed and their third brother, Irfan, he said, adding that Ali had recently married.
“My brother has died. How can I tell my mother?” said another wailing man being consoled by his loved ones outside the mortuary.
Also, a woman who lost her son in the factory fire was crying at the mortuary. When I reached the factory and repeatedly called his name, he did not respond, she added.
The bodies were ‘half burnt’, said Edhi volunteer Shah Jehan, who brought the deceased to the hospital, while the building was almost destroyed.
Chhippa volunteer Mr Altaf who also shifted the victims to the hospital said the fire burnt their skin but did not harm beyond that. He was of the opinion that they died due to inhalation of smoke and chemical gases. He explained that it was ground-plus-two-storey building, spread over around 200 square yards, with only one passage for entry and exit.
Edhi Foundation spokesperson said their one volunteer, Saddam, 30, was critically hurt during the rescue operation and shifted to the JPMC.
Besides the Edhi volunteer, three injured namely Muddasir, Rehman and Rizwan were also brought at the JPMC for treatment.
Karachi Commissioner Naveed Ahmed Shaikh visited the spot and supervised the rescue operation.
City administrator Barrister Murtaza Wahab told the media that the fire erupted at 10:09am and fire tenders were sent within ‘one minute’. The factory reportedly had no ‘emergency exit’ that caused difficulties, he observed, adding that 21 labourers worked at the unit and most deaths occurred due to suffocation.
The administrator said Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah immediately took notice of the incident and assured the media that thorough investigation would be carried out to cover all aspects related to the gruesome incident.
“The police and fire brigade personnel are investigating the incident and the report will be shared with the media,” he vowed.
Late evening, the additional police surgeon said the unidentified victim was identified as Faizan Umer, 29.
She explained that post-mortem examination of the 16 bodies showed that all of them died due to inhalation of smoke though some them were ‘partly burnt but with superficial wounds.’ The cause of death was “cardio-respiratory failure secondary to asphyxia caused by inhalation of smoke and soot particles from fire leading to suffocation and subsequent death,” she added.
Published in Dawn, August 28th, 2021