KARACHI: The death toll from a garment factory fire in Karachi's SITE area rose to 289 as more bodies were recovered from the gutted building, the city's top administration official said Wednesday.
“The death toll is 289. This is not final, search for more bodies continues,” commissioner Karachi Roshan Shaikh told AFP.
Karachi city's police chief Iqbal Mahmood also said rescue teams were still trying to gain access to parts of the factory, which caught fire late on Tuesday, and the death toll could rise.
“We found dozens of people dead in a large room of the factory's basement. It was totally burnt and parts of it were smouldering, which we put out before shifting the bodies to hospitals,” Karachi fire chief Ehtesham Salim told AFP.
“Our firemen are searching every nook and corner of the factory despite having limited resources to cope with such a grave situation,” Salim said.
He added that the blaze was Karachi's “biggest fire in terms of deaths in decades”.
Factory workers said that they made plastic utensils and under garments.
The death toll was revised sharply upwards after police earlier said the fire, which erupted late Tuesday, had killed nine workers.
Some shouting and sobbing relatives of trapped workers, desperate to get inside the building, scuffled with police during the night, an AFP photographer said.
Rescuers used arc lights to work through the night. A steady stream of bodies were stretchered out, covered by white sheets.
Abdus Salam, a doctor at Karachi's Civil Hospital, said 10 women were among the dead garment workers.
“The bodies are badly charred,” Salam told AFP, adding that at least 65 other workers had suffered broken bones after jumping out of windows to escape the fire.
Firefighters on crane lifts reached through the gutted building's windows to rescue some trapped survivors, who were taken to local hospitals suffering from burns and smoke inhalation.
The blaze was still smouldering early on Wednesday.
Mohammad Saleem, 32, who broke a leg after jumping out of the second floor, said he and his colleagues were hard at work late on Tuesday when flames suddenly reached their section.
“It was terrible, suddenly the entire floor filled with fire and smoke and the heat was so intense that we rushed towards the windows, broke its steel grille and glass and jumped out,” Saleem told AFP in hospital.
“I fell on the ground and it was extremely painful, I saw many people jumping out of windows and crying in pain for help,” he said.
Officials said the cause of the Karachi fire was not yet known but Rauf Siddiqui, the industry minister for Sindh province, said the factory owner was under investigation for negligence.
“We have ordered an inquiry into how the fire erupted and why proper emergency exits were not provided at the factory so that the workers could escape,” Siddiqui said.
According to DawnNews, Interior Minister Rehman Malik directed IG Sindh to investigate the incident and include the name of factory’s owner in the Exit Control List (ECL).
Earlier on Tuesday, at least 21 people were killed at a shoe factory in Lahore.
The fires could raise fresh questions about Pakistan's industrial safety.
Critics say the government is too corrupt and ineffective to tackle an array of problems, from struggling industries to suicide bombings in the South Asian nation.