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Pakistan factory fires claim over 300 lives (+video)

Tuesday night, fires separately broke out at a garment factory in Karachi and a shoe factory in Lahore.

Reuters reports on the pair of deadly factory fires in Pakistan Tuesday night.
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The death toll from a pair of devastating factory fires that broke out in Pakistan's two biggest cities rose on Wednesday to 314 people, many of whom perished because they were unable to escape buildings that lacked emergency exits and basic safety equipment such as alarms and sprinklers.

The horrific toll highlights the atrocious state of industrial safety in Pakistan, where many factories are set up illegally in the country's densely populated cities, and owners often pay officials bribes to ignore safety violations.

The more deadly of the two blazes, which both erupted on Tuesday night, was at a garment factory in the southern city of Karachi, the country's economic heart.

The death toll there rose to 289 people Wednesday, as firefighters battled the flames for hours, said senior government official Roshan Ali Sheikh. It was one of the worst industrial accidents in Pakistan's 65-year history, and Sheikh said the death toll could rise because rescue workers were still pulling bodies out from the site in Karachi.

Most of the deaths were caused by suffocation as people caught in the basement were unable to escape when it filled with smoke, said the top firefighter in Karachi, Ehtisham-ud-Din. There were no fire exits, and at least one of the main doors leading out was locked, he said. It's unclear what caused the fire.

Workers on higher floors of the five-story 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."

His leg was injured in the fall.

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