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Residents look on during the rescue operation after a deadly fire at a garment factory in Karachi, Sept 12, 2012. — Photo by AFP

KARACHI, Oct 8: As the report of the Sindh government’s inquiry tribunal set up to investigate the Baldia Town factory inferno is keenly awaited, the mystery behind the deadly incident is deepening with each passing day, with more than 70 families of missing Ali Enterprises workers still looking for their loved ones and 39 charred bodies being kept at the Edhi morgue.

While the authorities are firm on 259 deaths in the last month’s tragic incident, the number of persons who were inside the industrial unit at the time of the fire and missing since put a serious question mark over their fate and the total number of casualties.

Background interviews with grieving families and interaction with labour and non-governmental organisations engaged with these families after the tragedy suggest that there are more than 70 families in the Baldia Town, Orangi Town and SITE whose loved ones have not yet returned home after the fire incident, which has turned the Ali Enterprise factory into a haunted place.

Amna Bibi is passing through dual tragedy. She is unaware of the fate of his paternal cousin Kamaluddin, a ‘helper’ at Ali Enterprises.

Nobody has approached her to confirm his association with the industrial unit. The 66-year-old labourer was posted at the second floor of the garments factory, where most of the casualties took place.

“He had been living with us since childhood when his parents died,” she said. “He was unmarried and had no one in blood relation. After the incident, we have made every possible effort to trace him or his body in vain. People said he was dead, but how one could believe it without seeing his body.” Since the labourer had no sibling or child, no blood samples had been taken for DNA matching with the unidentified bodies.

Amna Bibi is not alone as Rehana Yasmin of the Hosiery Garment Textile Workers Union says her organisation has so far collected details of more than 60 families, which are unaware of the fate of their loved ones, employed at the factory.

“We have completed a survey of Badia Town and Orangi Town in collaboration with Piler (Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research),” she says. “Here we have 65 families whose members have been missing after the fire incident. If they have died, the casualties are much higher than reported as 39 bodies are yet to be identified.”

Similarly, she says, the union also came to know about New Karachi and SITE areas, where the families of Ali Enterprises workers are looking for their loved ones and their count could further increase the number of missing persons to more than 70.

The authorities have declared a total of 259 deaths in the fire that engulfed Ali Enterprise on Sept 11 evening and took more than 18 hours to extinguish with over 50 firefighters taking part in the operation using almost all available machinery and equipment of the city’s fire department.

Rescue workers insist that they cleared the industrial unit only after retrieving all bodies, including several charred ones, from the garment factory.

“The limbs and other parts of bodies were also recovered from the factory after the fire died down, but not in a huge number,” said chief fire officer Ehtashamuddin. “Almost all bodies are intact and it’s not possible that human remains in such a large number remained out of rescue workers’ sight.”