Death toll in Pakistani factory fires rises to 314

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Authorities Wednesday raised to 314 the death toll from two massive fires that engulfed factories in Pakistan’s largest cities and renewed questions about a lack of adherence to fire safety measures in the South Asian nation.

The deadliest blaze occurred Tuesday evening in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and its commercial hub, where at least 289 people died inside a garment factory. Authorities said the building lacked fire exits, and in the basement where many workers sought refuge, all doors were locked. Several survivors suffered broken bones after leaping from windows in the five-story building.

In the eastern city of Lahore, a blaze at a four-story shoemaking factory killed at least 25 workers Tuesday, authorities said. Ten other workers who were in the building at the time were injured. 
Building owners across the country routinely skirt fire safety laws, often paying bribes to local authorities to avoid installing expensive fire alarm systems and fire suppression equipment. On Wednesday, President Asif Ali Zardari ordered an investigation into both fires.

“While the government probes the causes of these terrible incidents, it should also investigate and share with the people why these factories were allowed to operate without observing safety measures,” said Zohra Yusuf, chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, in a prepared statement released Wednesday. “Why had no one paid attention to the lack of multiple entry/exit points and absence of safe evacuation plans in case of emergency?”

Sagheer Ahmad, health minister for Sindh province where Karachi is located, said firefighters were still pulling bodies from the Karachi building and that the death toll could rise further. The causes of the fires were still being investigated.

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-- Nasir Khan. Khan is a special correspondent in Islamabad.

 
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