At least 19 people have been killed and dozens are feared trapped after a factory collapsed in Pakistan’s second-largest city of Lahore, an emergency official has said.
Records indicate there were 62 people, including women and children, inside the factory when it collapsed, Ahad Cheema, deputy commissioner of Lahore, said on Monday.
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Fourteen people have been pulled out so far and rescue workers are trying to reach more than 40 others who are still trapped, he said.
Two adjacent houses to the factory, which was used to manufacture veterinary injections, also collapsed following the explosion. Rescue officials said that narrow streets were preventing heavy rescue machinery from reaching the area.
Emergency workers and residents were shifting rubble by hand as authorities struggled to move a large crane to the site.
“I was inside the building when the blast happened,” said Asad, an eight-year-old who was a labourer in the factory. “Two other boys were with me and they started running. I don’t know where they went and if they are alive.”
Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab, reporting from Islamabad, said that the three-storey building was located in a residential locality.
“We have also been hearing eyewitness accounts saying that they had complained about this factory in the past, as a factory that was involved in such industrial scale production should not have been in this residential neighbourhood,” Tyab said.
Authorities had previously closed the factory three times, but each time it reopened, the deputy commissioner said. Police said the collapse was likely the result of a boiler or gas cylinder explosion.
The factory, located in the city’s congested Multan Road neighbourhood, was owned by a local politician, who used his influence to reopen the factory despite complaints from the neighbors, Munawar Ali, a local resident, said.
“It’s a big disaster. It is too early to say when we’ll finish. We want to recover alive as many people as possible,” said Ahmed Raza, a rescue worker.
Volunteers and rescue workers used hammers, axes, chisels and shovels to shift the rubble and pull out the injured, who were coated in dust.
As the evening drew in, search lights were set up as rescue workers prepared for a night of painstaking work.
“The search will continue throughout the night. We have to be very careful, it is the question of human lives,” said Ghulam Mehmood Dogar, a police official.