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Clothing factory blaze kills 112 in Bangladesh

At least 112 workers were killed when a fierce blaze tore through a busy clothing factory in Bangladesh, forcing people to leap from high windows to escape the choking smoke and flames.

Bangladeshi firefighters battle a fire at a garment factory in the Savar neighborhood in Dhaka, Bangladesh. AP Photo / Hasan Raza
Bangladeshi firefighters battle a fire at a garment factory in the Savar neighborhood in Dhaka, Bangladesh. AP Photo / Hasan Raza

DHAKA, Bangladesh // At least 112 people were killed in a fire that raced through a multi-storey clothing factory just outside of Bangladesh's capital, an official said yesterday.

The blaze broke out at the seven-story factory operated by Tazreen Fashions late on Saturday.

Fire department operations director Maj. Mohammad Mahbub said 100 bodies were found yesterday morning and another 12 people who had suffered injuries after jumping from the building to escape the fire later died in hospitals.

The death toll could rise as 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.

Mr 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 structure, 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, Mr 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," Mr Mahbub said."So the workers could not come out when the fire engulfed the building."

"Had there been at least one emergency exit outside the factory, the casualties would have been much lower," he said.

Fire brigade director general brigadier general Abu Nayeem Mohammad Shahidullah said it was suspected the fire originated from an electrical short-circuit. "We can say it for sure after investigation."

He add a lack of water in the area delayed efforts to control the fire. Fire trucks in Bangladesh are not always equipped with enough water to put out blazes.

Bangladesh has some 4,500 garment factories, many without proper safety measures. The country annually earns about $20 billion from exports of garment products, mainly to the United States and Europe, brands including Wal-Mart, JC Penney, H&M, Marks & Spencer, Carrefour and Tesco. Clothes account for close to 80 percent of Bangladesh's annual exports. More than a million are employed in the garment industry.

Relatives of the factory workers yesterday 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 could not find 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."

Many of the victims were burnt beyond recognition. The recovered bodies were kept in rows on the premise 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. Mr Mahbub would not say how many  were still missing.

The 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.

In another accident, a flyover under construction fell on to a busy market, leaving 14 people dead including three construction workers in southeastern city of Chittagong, an official said yesterday.

Fire official Abdul Mannan said the concrete structure collapsed on Saturday, and authorities recovered the bodies by yesterday.

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse.