KARACHI - Authorities on Thursday registered a murder case against factory bosses and government officials over the deaths of 289 people in the country’s worst industrial disaster, police said.
The factory building, which was gutted in a massive blaze, was cleared Thursday morning after 41 hours of rescue work, officials said.
Workers were suffocated or burnt alive at the Ali Enterprises garment factory in Karachi, which made ready-to-wear clothing for Western export, when a massive fire tore through the building during the evening shift on Tuesday.
Up to 600 people were working inside at the time, in a building that officials said was in poor condition without emergency exits, forcing dozens to jump from upper storeys to escape the flames, but trapping dozens in the basement where they perished.
“We have registered a murder case against the owners of the factory and several government officials for showing utter negligence to provide adequate security to the factory workers,” said Muhammad Nawaz Gondal, the head of the local police station.
The case has been filed against Abdul Aziz, Muhammad Arshad and Shahid Bhaila and other members of the management of Ali Enterprises, Gondal said. Police are hunting for the factory owners, who have not been seen since the blaze. The officials said that the names of the two brothers had already been put on exit control list (ECL).
As many as 217 bodies were kept at Edhi Center; of them, 107 have been delivered to the bereaved families after identification process. Eight bodies will be dispatched to different areas of Punjab including Muzaffargarh and Rahim Yar Khan. Edhi Center Sohrab Goth’s official said the bodies being shifted to Punjab cities will be given free-of-cost service.
The government of Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital, has appointed a retired judge to lead an investigation into the fire, with initial findings expected in a week. The probe will look into the cause of the fire, protection systems available inside the building and the extent of negligence on the owners’ part, a government statement said.
Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city with a population of 18 million, shut down in mourning on Thursday for the deaths. Public transport was suspended and schools and colleges closed. Factories and markets also shut while attendance at offices was thin.
Relatives spent a second day at hospitals, desperate for news of their loved ones, breaking into wails and sobs when medics confirmed the identity of yet another body. With so many burnt beyond recognition, only 190 of the dead had been identified by Thursday morning, some by DNA, and 178 bodies were handed back to families for burial, city police chief Iqbal Mehmood said.
Mohammad Bakhsh, 60, burst into tears and hugged his teenage grandson outside the Civil Hospital morgue when he was informed that son Muhammad Ashraf’s body had been identified. “We are doomed, it is doomsday for us, Allah will help us to survive,” he sobbed.
Even 36 hours after the disaster began, several families still gathered outside the gutted factory hoping for news of their loved ones. In the morning, they staged a protest demonstration as the heavy machinery could not be transported to the blaze site, which delayed the relief work at the basement of the factory.
The affected people warned they will themselves drain out the accumulated water after breaking the wall of the factory, if the administration continues to display disregard over the tragedy of so immense proportions.
There was thick smoke in the basement and it was still too hot to go inside, where boiling water formed a pool after firefighters spent hours hosing the flaming building. “The place is too hot and smoky, it is too risky to go inside and clear the building. We are waiting for now,” chief fire officer Ehtishamud Din said. However, the factory building was declared clear after 41 hours of rescue work.
Ehtisham said the operation continued all night long and after drainage machines pumped water out of the basement the building was now clear. Talking to media, he said the upper three floors had already been cleared but problems were faced clearing the basement as it was filled with water and had became extremely hot as a result of continued 18-hour fire. He asserted there was no more dead body left at the factory now.
Ambulances continued to ply back and forth to the factory, even as funeral prayers for some of the dead had already begun. Muhammad Arshad, a labourer, erected a tent outside his house in an impoverished neighbourhood near the factory for the funerals of his brother and sister-in-law.
“My elder brother and his wife worked in the factory and both have been missing since the incident. We’re not optimistic now and have arranged for their rituals once their bodies are identified,” he said, his eyes brimming with tears. The couple’s children, a 13-year-old daughter and a nine-year-old son have not yet been informed their parents are probably dead, he said. “They are too young and already confused. We’ll tell them once the bodies arrive.”
The loss of lives of 289 innocent people in a factory conflagration has saddened the atmosphere of the metropolis. Announcing three-day mourning, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) has called off all organisational and political activities in grief over the incident that claimed 289 lives.
A team of Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) investigating of the incident visited the factory Wednesday night to ascertain the losses caused by fire. The team will again visit Baldia Town to collect evidences. According to head of FIA team, Azad Khan, they will soon record statements of eyewitnesses.
While talking to TheNation Director FIA Sindh Muhammad Malik said they were looking into the matter but they were not in a position to conclude the cause of fire. He said the factory was completely gutted therefore it would be difficult to collect tangible evidence from the spot. He also said investigation team of FIA has gathered the samples for forensic examination. “We are trying to probe that the incident was accidental or not,” Malik said.
Meanwhile, Sindh IGP has also constituted a four-member team to probe the incident. The team included DIG CIA, SSP West, SP West Investigation and SSPSIU Farooq Awan.
Murder case filed, police hunting for owners