LAHORE: A massive search and rescue (SAR) operation continued on the second day on Tuesday after a three-storey building owned by a pharmaceutical company collapsed in Hanjarwal allegedly owing to boiler explosion on Monday morning.
At least 10 more bodies were found in the rubble till the filing of this report by Tuesday midnight, raising death toll to 20. The families of missing factory workers complained about slow rescue work and non-cooperation on the part of rescuers and police as every passing moment was dashing their hopes. Officials of Rescue-1122, Civil Defence, Solid Waste Management and local town administration were seen removing debris throughout the day.
A large number of people, mostly family members of the missing victims, saw the SAR operation with enormous anxiety, hoping against the hope that their near and dear ones were still alive. Sadar Operations SP Shoaib Khurram Janbaz told news the bodies of 16 women and three boys had been recovered while 20 people had been recovered alive with cuts and grazes. He said nine of them were still under treatment in different city hospitals while the remaining 11 had been discharged from the infirmaries.
He said the SAR operation was in progress to recover at least nine trapped victims and some of them were still believed to be alive. The SP said Saleh Khatoon, of Khushab, the elderly woman who was recovered alive 31 hours after the collapse, told rescuers that at least four people were still alive in the rubble.
A Rescue-1122 official said it transpired during initial investigations that explosion in the 350KW generator installed at the rooftop of the building also jolted the building, leading it to collapse suddenly. He said gas leakage could be a factor behind the blast. Also, substandard material used in the construction of the building was being believed as another factor leading to the disaster. The SAR operation is likely to be completed by Wednesday (today). Haji Muhammad Javed, a local resident, told this reporter that a loud explosion shook the entire locality at around 8:15am. Locals had rescued at least six victims before the Rescue-1122 personnel arrived at the scene. He said that first batch of Orient Labs workers used to arrive at 7:30am and casualties could have been a lot more had the second batch arrived at 8:30am.
The family of 32-year-old Shazia Bibi, who was still missing, said the rescuers worked very slowly and also they would not answer their queries. Muhammad Shafique, of Kharak Main Bazaar, was waiting for the recovery of his 40-year-old wife. “I don’t blame anyone for the incident, but the factory owners instead of escaping should have stood with us for moral support.”
The father of four said he reached the spot soon after the incident and started taking part in the rescue work along with scores of other locals. Zafar Iqbal, of Kharak, who lost his 35-year-old wife Musarrat Bibi (also mother of four), said though he didn’t blame anyone for the incident, the rescuers should have performed a swift SAR operation.
He said his wife had got the employment in the washing section of the factory only three months ago. Muhammad Saeed, of Dunyapur, also bemoaned poor arrangements at the factory, causing the death of his two sisters, Asima and Nosheen. The victims whose bodies were found on Tuesday were identified as Bashiran Serwer, 40, Asma Bashir, 18, Musarrat Nawaz, 26, Muhammad Adil, 13, Falahuddin, 50, Shahnaz Kauser, 35, Shaizia Bibi, 39, and Sheikh Ejaz, 52. The body of a 40-year-old woman was yet to be identified.
Also, funeral for the victims were held in Lahore, Vehari, Multan and other districts of Punjab on Tuesday. At least five bodies were taken to Mailsi for burial. Meanwhile, DIG Major (retired) Mubashirullah and CMIT chairman Najam Saeed, who are members of a three-member inquiry committee constituted by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to probe into the incident, visited the scene and recorded statements of locals.