Search for victims of Bangladesh fire

2010-12-15 11:01
Dhaka - Firefighters searched a gutted garment factory on Wednesday for more possible victims of a devastating fire that trapped workers and forced some to jump to their deaths. At least 29 fatalities were reported.

No more bodies were found on Wednesday morning but the search was continuing, Mohammad Ziauddin, a fire control room official, said by phone.

The fire that started during the lunch break on Tuesday was brought under control overnight and completely put out by midday on Wednesday.

Witnesses said many of the dead were trapped workers who jumped from the smouldering building engulfed by flames. While no more victims seemed to be inside the burnt factory, firefighters were still searching carefully, Ziauddin said.

He would not say an exact figure of casualties. Local media reported at least 29 dead.

"We are now actually trying to determine actual damage caused by the fire in the factory," he said. The cause wasn't yet determined, but the government is investigating.

Gate locked

The 10-storey factory near the capital, Dhaka, is owned by Ha-Meem Group, a local business giant that supplies major multinationals such as Gap and JCPenney. It said on Tuesday that victims' families would receive compensation.

The blaze broke out on the two upper floors during the lunch break, Monir Hossain, a local journalist at the scene, said. A gate on a stairwell was locked, trapping people inside the factory.

On Wednesday, the top floors showed visible damage such as burned-out windows.

About 13 000 people work at the factory on shifts each day, though most were outside buying lunch when the fire started, another journalist, Rafiqul Islam, said on Tuesday. He said he saw at least 25 bodies being loaded onto ambulances.

Factory worker Mohammad Atiq said by phone from the scene that he saw at least five people die after leaping off the upper floors.

Workers' safety in Bangladesh's rapidly growing textile industry is a major concern but in recent years has improved, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association said.

Labour rights groups say safety standards are still inadequate in many factories.

Recent protests

In February, a fire at a sweater factory just outside Dhaka killed 21 people and injured dozens.

Bangladesh has about 4 000 garment factories that export more than $10bn worth of products a year, mainly to the United States and Europe. Customers include Wal-Mart, Tesco, H&M, Zara, Carrefour, Gap, Metro, JCPenney, Marks & Spencer, Kohl's, Levi Strauss and Tommy Hilfiger.

Recent protests by low-paid garment workers have gripped the country. Workers demanding the implementation of a new minimum wage clashed with police at an industrial zone in southeastern Bangladesh on Sunday, leaving up to three people dead and 100 hurt.

Authorities opened fire and used tear gas after thousands of workers attacked factories and smashed vehicles at the Chittagong Export Processing Zone. The zone - 215km southeast of Dhaka - houses about 70 foreign companies that mainly manufacture garments, shoes and bicycles, and employ about 150 000 workers.

Smaller protests have taken place around Dhaka. On Sunday, workers in the capital blocked a busy road and set two vehicles on fire, police said.

Garment workers in Bangladesh are among the lowest-paid in the world, according to the International Trade Union Confederation, a Vienna-based labour rights group.

In the first increase since 2006, the government in July raised the official minimum wage to $45 a month from $25. The new pay structure took effect in November, but workers say many factories haven't implemented it yet.

- AP
Read more on:    bangladesh  |  fires
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