At least 40 people were killed, more than half of them children, when a fire tore through dozens of homes in a shanty town in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, officials said yesterday.
Initial reports indicated the blaze in the teeming southern port city was sparked by a power wire that fell onto the roofs of the huts, Sindh Province Health Minister Saghir Ahmed said.
City police official Majid Dasti said that investigators were also looking into the possibility that residents had started a small fire to beat the cold and that the wind whipped the flames out of control.
Twenty-two children were killed in the blaze, which broke out just before midnight when most residents were asleep, city police Waseem Ahmad said.
Two people died in hospital in the hours after the fire, taking the toll to 40, Ahmad said.
More than 20 people were injured, some of them suffering severe burns, said Mashhood Zafar, an official at the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital in Karachi. A photographer at the scene said more than 30 huts had been gutted in the massive blaze. The provincial health minister said the huts destroyed had been home to about 200 people.
“This is just a catastrophe. I have lost everything. My life is destroyed,” said weeping survivor Mohammed Khan, whose wife and two children were killed.
Thick black smoke could be seen rising from the scene of the blaze in Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial capital on the Arabian sea which is home to more than 12 million people.
Some residents wept as others desperately combed through the ruins looking for survivors. Mohammed Asghar was inconsolable — he lost his sister, brother-in-law and their seven children aged one to 12 in the blaze.
“My brother-in-law was a street vendor and we had planned to go to our home village in a few days,” Asghar said. “My eldest nephew has asked for a new toy car, which I could not afford to buy for him. I’ll regret that forever.”
The shanty town was surrounded on three sides by larger buildings, and the only escape route appeared to have been quickly blocked by the flames, firefighters said.
“Most of the casualties seem to have been caused by the lack of exit route,” said fire brigade official Ehtesham Salaam.
It took firefighters several hours to bring the inferno under control.
“Investigations are ongoing,” said Dasti, adding that police did not suspect foul play.
Once known for its suburban green spaces and tree-lined streets, Karachi is now a concrete jungle of haphazard settlements. More than half of the population live in slums.
The blaze appeared to be one of the biggest in recent years in Pakistan.
Twenty-two people were killed in December 2006 when a fire broke out at a wedding ceremony in the central town of Jhok Utra.