At least 112 people were killed in a fire that raced through a multi-story garment factory just outside of Bangladesh’s capital, an official said yesterday.
The blaze broke out at a seven-story factory operated by Tazreen Fashions late on Saturday. By yesterday morning, firefighters had recovered 100 bodies, fire department operations director Major Mohammad Mahbub said.
He said another 12 people who had suffered injuries after jumping from the building to escape the fire later died at hospitals. The death toll could rise because the search for victims was continuing, he said.
Local media reported that up to 124 people were killed in the fire. The cause of the blaze was not immediately clear and authorities have ordered an investigation.
Bangladesh has about 4,000 garment factories, many without proper safety measures. The country earns about US$20 billion annually from exports of garment products, mainly to the US and Europe.
Relatives of the factory workers were frantically looking for their loved ones. Sabina Yasmine said she saw the body of her daughter-in-law, who died in the fire, but saw no trace of her son, who also worked at the factory.
“Oh Allah, where’s my soul? Where’s my son?” wailed Yasmine, who works at another factory in the area. “I want the factory owner to be hanged. For him, many have died, many have gone.”
Mahbub said firefighters recovered 69 bodies from the second floor of the factory alone. He said most of the victims had been trapped inside the factory, located just outside of Dhaka, with no emergency exits leading outside the building.
Many workers who had taken shelter on the roof of the factory were rescued, but firefighters were unable to save those who were trapped inside, Mahbub said.
He said the fire broke out on the ground floor, which was used as a warehouse, and spread quickly to the upper floors.
“The factory had three staircases, and all of them were down through the ground floor,” Mahbub said. “So the workers could not come out when the fire engulfed the building.”
“Had there been at least one emergency exit through outside the factory, the casualties would have been much lower,” he said.
Many of the victims were burned beyond recognition. The recovered bodies were kept in rows on the premises of a nearby school.
Army soldiers and paramilitary border guards were deployed to help police keep the situation under control as thousands of onlookers and anxious relatives of the factory workers gathered at the scene, Mahbub said. He would not say how many people were still missing.
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed shock at the loss of so many lives in the blaze and asked authorities to conduct thorough search-and-rescue operations.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association said it would stand by the victims’ families.
Bangladesh’s garment factories make clothes for brands including Wal-Mart, JC Penney, H&M, Marks & Spencer, Carrefour and Tesco.
Separately, a flyover under construction fell onto a busy market, leaving at least 14 people dead, including three construction workers, in Bangladesh’s second city, Chittagong, an official said yesterday.