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Factory fire in Bangladesh highlights poor safety

  • Bangladeshis protest outside a garment-factory where a fire killed more than 110 people Saturday on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, Monday, Nov. 26, 2012. About 15,000 Bangladeshi workers protested blocks from the gutted fire Monday, demanding justice for the victims and improved safety. Some 200 factories were closed for the day after the protest erupted in Savar, a suburb of Dhaka, the capital.(AP Photo)

    Bangladeshis protest outside a garment-factory where a fire killed more than 110 people Saturday on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, Monday, Nov. 26, 2012. About 15,000 Bangladeshi workers protested blocks from the gutted fire Monday, demanding justice for the victims and improved safety. Some 200 factories were closed for the day after the protest erupted in Savar, a suburb of Dhaka, the capital.(AP Photo)

  • Bangladeshi officials inspect a garment-factory where a fire killed more than 110 people Saturday  on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, Monday, Nov. 26, 2012. Bangladeshis were Monday blocking the streets near Dhaka, throwing stones at factories and smashing vehicles, as they demanded justice for those killed in the fire. Saturday's blaze highlighted unsafe conditions in an industry producing for retailers around the world. (AP Photo)

    Bangladeshi officials inspect a garment-factory where a fire killed more than 110 people Saturday on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, Monday, Nov. 26, 2012. Bangladeshis were Monday blocking the streets near Dhaka, throwing stones at factories and smashing vehicles, as they demanded justice for those killed in the fire. Saturday's blaze highlighted unsafe conditions in an industry producing for retailers around the world. (AP Photo)

  • A Bangladeshi man, right, reacts as he looks for his son's body outside a garment factory where a fire killed more than 110 people Saturday on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, Monday, Nov. 26, 2012. Bangladeshis Monday blocked the streets near Dhaka, throwing stones at factories and smashing vehicles, as they demanded justice for those killed in the fire. Saturday's blaze highlighted unsafe conditions in an industry producing for retailers around the world. (AP Photo)

    A Bangladeshi man, right, reacts as he looks for his son's body outside a garment factory where a fire killed more than 110 people Saturday on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, Monday, Nov. 26, 2012. Bangladeshis Monday blocked the streets near Dhaka, throwing stones at factories and smashing vehicles, as they demanded justice for those killed in the fire. Saturday's blaze highlighted unsafe conditions in an industry producing for retailers around the world. (AP Photo)

  • A man takes photographs inside a garment-factory where a fire killed more than 110 people Saturday  on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, Monday, Nov. 26, 2012. Bangladeshi workers protested blocks from the gutted fire Monday, demanding justice for the victims and improved safety. Some 200 factories were closed for the day after the protest erupted in Savar, a suburb of Dhaka, the capital.  (AP Photo)

    A man takes photographs inside a garment-factory where a fire killed more than 110 people Saturday on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, Monday, Nov. 26, 2012. Bangladeshi workers protested blocks from the gutted fire Monday, demanding justice for the victims and improved safety. Some 200 factories were closed for the day after the protest erupted in Savar, a suburb of Dhaka, the capital. (AP Photo)

  • Bangladeshis protest outside a garment-factory where a fire killed more than 110 people Saturday on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, Monday, Nov. 26, 2012. About 15,000 Bangladeshi workers protested blocks from the gutted fire Monday, demanding justice for the victims and improved safety. Some 200 factories were closed for the day after the protest erupted in Savar, a suburb of Dhaka, the capital.(AP Photo)
  • Bangladeshi officials inspect a garment-factory where a fire killed more than 110 people Saturday  on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, Monday, Nov. 26, 2012. Bangladeshis were Monday blocking the streets near Dhaka, throwing stones at factories and smashing vehicles, as they demanded justice for those killed in the fire. Saturday's blaze highlighted unsafe conditions in an industry producing for retailers around the world. (AP Photo)
  • A Bangladeshi man, right, reacts as he looks for his son's body outside a garment factory where a fire killed more than 110 people Saturday on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, Monday, Nov. 26, 2012. Bangladeshis Monday blocked the streets near Dhaka, throwing stones at factories and smashing vehicles, as they demanded justice for those killed in the fire. Saturday's blaze highlighted unsafe conditions in an industry producing for retailers around the world. (AP Photo)
  • A man takes photographs inside a garment-factory where a fire killed more than 110 people Saturday  on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, Monday, Nov. 26, 2012. Bangladeshi workers protested blocks from the gutted fire Monday, demanding justice for the victims and improved safety. Some 200 factories were closed for the day after the protest erupted in Savar, a suburb of Dhaka, the capital.  (AP Photo)

When the fire alarm went off, workers were told by their bosses to go back to their sewing machines. An exit door was locked. And the fire extinguishers didn’t work and apparently were there just to impress inspectors and customers.

That was the picture survivors painted of the garment-factory blaze Saturday that killed at least 112 people who were trapped inside or jumped to their deaths in desperation.

For Bangladesh, where such factories commonly ignore safety as they rush to produce for retailers around the world, the tragedy was unusual only in scope: More than 200 people have died in garment-factory fires in the country since 2006.

About 15,000 Bangladeshi workers protested blocks from the gutted building yesterday in the Dhaka suburb of Savar, demanding justice for the victims and improved safety. Some 200 factories were closed for the day after the protest erupted. Demonstrators blocked a major highway, threw stones at factories and smashed vehicles.

Maj. Mohammad Mahbub, fire department operations director, said investigators suspect a short circuit caused the fire at the factory, which was making T-shirts and polo shirts.

But the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association urged investigators not to rule out sabotage.

“Local and international conspirators are trying to destroy our garment industry,” association President Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin said. He provided no details.

Mahbub said it was the lack of safety measures in the eight-story building that made the blaze so deadly.

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

He said firefighters recovered at least 100 bodies from the factory, and 12 more people died at hospitals after jumping from the building. Local news media reported that about 100 injured people were being treated at hospitals.

The government was unable to identify many victims because they were burned beyond recognition; they were buried yesterday in a grave outside Dhaka. The government announced that today will be a day of national mourning, with the flag lowered to half-staff.

Survivor Mohammad Ripu said he tried to run out of the building when the fire alarm rang but was stopped.

“Managers told us, ‘Nothing happened. The fire alarm had just gone out of order. Go back to work,’” Ripu said. “But we quickly understood that there was a fire. As we again ran for the exit point we found it locked from outside, and it was too late.”

Ripu said he jumped from a second-floor window and suffered minor injuries. Another worker, Yeamin, who uses only one name, said fire extinguishers in the factory didn’t work, and “were meant just to impress the buyers or authority.”

TV footage showed a team of investigators finding some unused fire extinguishers inside the factory.

It was Bangladesh’s deadliest garment-factory blaze in recent memory, but there have been several major factory fires in recent years, including one that killed 63 people in 2006 in southern Chittagong town.

Labor leaders hope outrage over the latest disaster will prompt change. Tahmina Rahman, general secretary of the Bangladesh Garment Workers Federation, said the group wants the government to work harder to punish factories for safety lapses.

“The owners go unpunished and so they don’t care about installing enough security facilities,” she said. “The owners should be held responsible and sent to jail.”

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