Developing

Pakistan: Hundreds Die In Factory Blazes

More than 300 people have been killed in two devastating factory fires in Pakistan.

Officials said the number of people who died in a fire at a clothing factory in the southern city of Karachi has reached 289 - making it one of the worst industrial accidents in the country's 65-year history.

Police are hunting the managers of the factory, who have reportedly fled, and their names have been added to a list of fugitives barred from leaving the country.

A separate blaze at a shoe factory in the eastern city of Lahore has killed 25 people.

Workers and officials say the buildings lacked emergency exits and basic equipment such as alarms and sprinklers, prompting questions about industrial safety in Pakistan.

Firefighter chief Ehtisham-ud-Din says most of the garment factory deaths were caused by suffocation as people caught in the basement were unable to escape.

He said he feared the factory could collapse at any time as the first floor had been gutted by the blaze.

The head of the emergency department at the city's Civil Hospital, Tariq Kamal Ayubi, said the bodies were being taken to the hospital and many were so badly burned that it was impossible to tell whether they were male or female.

Senior government official Roshan Ali Sheikh said the Karachi garment factory had only one accessible exit, and others appeared to be locked.

"It is a criminal act to lock the emergency exit doors, and we are trying to know who did it, and why?" Mr Sheikh said.

Relatives of the victims said the factory owner locked the exit doors in response to a recent theft, thereby endangering the workers inside.

"The owner of the factory should also be burned to death the way our dear ones have died in a miserable condition," said Nizam-ud-Din, whose nephew died in the fire.

Workers on higher floors of the five-storey building struggled to make it out of windows that were covered with metal bars. Many were injured when they jumped from the building, including a 27-year-old pregnant woman who was injured in the fall.

Another injured factory worker, Mohammad Ilyas, speaking from the hospital, said he was working with roughly 50 other men and women on one of the floors when suddenly a fireball came from the staircase.

"I jumped from my seat as did others and rushed toward the windows, but iron bars on the windows barred us from escaping. Some of us quickly took tools and machines to break the iron bars," he said.

"That was how we managed to jump out of the windows down to the ground floor."

The fire in Lahore started in a factory that is thought to have been illegally set up in a residential part of the city.

It broke out when people in the building were trying to start their generator after the electricity went out.

Sparks from the generator made contact with chemicals used to make the shoes, igniting the blaze. Pakistan faces widespread blackouts, and many people use generators to provide electricity for their houses or to run businesses.

A firefighter at the scene, Numan Noor, said the reason most of the victims died was because the main escape route was blocked.

"The people went to the back side of the building but there was no access, so we had to make forceful entries and ... rescue the people," said Mr Noor.

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