Wednesday, September 12, 2012

At Least 300 Killed In Pair of Factory Fires In Pakistan

When you get a chance, take a look at the garments you own. You may see quite a few that are made in Pakistan or places like Vietnam or Bangladesh. Now understand that there are unseen costs for having clothes made on the cheap. Pakistan was wracked by a pair of deadly factory fires at a garment factory and an illegal shoe factory.

The garment factory fire in Karachi killed at least 289 people, while the shoe factory fire killed at least 25 people.

And the death tolls are rising as more bodies are removed from the carnage.
The death toll there rose to 289 people Wednesday, as firefighters battled the flames for hours, said senior government official Roshan Ali Sheikh. It was one of the worst industrial accidents in Pakistan's 65-year history, and Sheikh said the death toll could rise because rescue workers were still pulling bodies out from the site in Karachi.

Most of the deaths were caused by suffocation as people caught in the basement were unable to escape when it filled with smoke, said the top firefighter in Karachi, Ehtisham-ud-Din. There were no fire exits, and at least one of the main doors leading out was locked, he said. It's unclear what caused the fire.

Workers on higher floors of the five-story building struggled to make it out of windows that were covered with metal bars. Many were injured when they jumped from the building, including a 27-year-old pregnant woman who was injured in the fall.

Another injured factory worker, Mohammad Ilyas, speaking from the hospital, said he was working with roughly 50 other men and women on one of the floors when suddenly a fireball came from the staircase.

"I jumped from my seat as did others and rushed toward the windows, but iron bars on the windows barred us from escaping. Some of us quickly took tools and machines to break the iron bars," he said. "That was how we managed to jump out of the windows down to the ground floor."
The eyewitness and victim testimony mirrors those from our own experience in the US and New York City in particular. You could get similar testimony from those who survived the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, where 146 people, mostly immigrants, were killed because the factory operators locked egress doors and emergency exits and failed to provide a safe working environment. Lint and other flammable materials were allowed to pile up and all it took was a cigarette or match thrown into a scrap pile to cause the conflagration.

In the aftermath of the Triangle fire, New York engaged in a massive overhaul of workplace safety laws, and we are much better off for it.

One can only hope that the Pakistani government takes a similar tact.

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