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Karachi’s inferno

January 01, 2013

IT is never easy to look back on a national tragedy that took more than 250 precious lives and the causes of which, even after months of the incident, are as foggy as an upcountry winter morning. On Sept 11, 2012, Pakistan saw perhaps its worst industrial accident when a fire engulfed a textile factory in the Baldia Town area of Karachi. The intensity of the blaze was so high that smoke kept billowing out for two days and the fire-tenders could not completely put out the flames for 72 hours. Many of the victims were burnt to death while a big number died of smoke inhalation. Approximately 450 workers were inside the huge building when the fire broke out. The few who survived said they had heard sounds of explosions, scaring the life out of them after which the entire structure turned into a living hell.

Heart-wrenching scenes were witnessed as the kith and kin of the victims cried for their loved ones’ lives. Sadly, for a vast majority, only memories of their sons, daughter, husbands or wives will stay with them. In the second week of December samples of 33 unidentified bodies were sent to a forensic laboratory in Islamabad for DNA matching as some families still want to know about their missing relatives. According to a report published in newspapers, 31 of the 33 bodies were beyond recognition and only parts of the remaining two could be looked at.

The dead workers belonged to that economic bracket which earns between three and seven thousand rupees on a monthly basis.

To date, certain mysteries or unresolved issues shroud the whole tragedy. For example, why the building’s only exit door was locked on that ill-fated day has not had a satisfactory answer. Also, responsibility has not been squarely put on anyone, and it might take some time to ascertain who should be held accountable for such an unpardonable act of criminal negligence.

On the first day of the incident, the media, especially news television networks, did not realise the magnitude of the story. It was only on the next day, when the fire could not be controlled, that they woke up to the gruesome reality. They covered the catastrophe for a few days and highlighted the issue. However, as time passed by, and as is the norm in our society, the story was dropped from their priority list, and only the print media followed the subsequent happenings.

The Baldia Town incident has raised a few questions about the capability of our firefighters. They should have been given the latest firefighting equipment a long time back. Not to be. The authorities in Pakistan have always been more reactive than proactive.