12:00 AM, November 27, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, November 27, 2012

An agonising wait outside

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Sohel Parvez

“I am going to die… Please pray for me!”
These are Lipi's last words to her husband from the burning factory in Ashulia, where fire killed at least 111 workers Saturday night.
As far as Akram, 30-year-old husband of Lipi, got from the phone conversation that evening, she was trapped on the 5th floor of eight-storey Tazreen Fashions Ltd. Since the call, Akram ceaselessly tried Lipi on her mobile phone until it went dead around 9:00am.
He also ran to the factory soon as he could, but only to find horrible screams and clouds of smoke coming out of the burning building.
Started on the ground floor, which was used for storing goods, the flame lasted till dawn.
The whole night Akram ran from one hospital to another with a hope to find his wife among the wounded and rescued. But Lipi was nowhere.
Akram finally got to get into the factory Sunday afternoon. He found ashes, charred flesh, broken tiles, burnt sewing machines, electric wires and unused fire extinguishers, but no trace of his wife.
Still determined to find her, he looked for his wife among scattered sandals, scarves, shirts and lunch boxes uttering, “Oh God, where do I look for her now.”
Akram, however, found an attendance card of one Ms Zaida near a broken window on the third floor. Panicked workers had broken the grills of the window trying to escape the fire.
A total of 59 bodies, which could not be identified and remained unclaimed, were handed over to voluntary organisation Anjuman-E-Mafiudul Islam for funeral.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) announced Tk 1 lakh as compensation for each deceased's family.
But that was no news to Akram. “It is not possible for me to claim a random body as my wife only for money. What good is money if I don't get her back,” he said.
Like Akram, Saidur Rahman, Mohammad Hanif and many others returned home disappointed after a bitter search in the burnt facility.
“There is no dead body, no one's here,” Mohammad Hanif told the waiting crowd at the main entrance of the factory. He had also come looking for his two relatives who used to work there.
Hanif's wife is one of the fortunate workers who had escaped the inferno by jumping from the third floor window and survived. She broke a leg and a few ribs, and injured the head. She is now resting at home after medical attention.
Another worker Mamata escaped the fire with the help of one male colleague. “When the fire alarm went crazy, our manager told that nothing had happened,” she said.
Although the building had three staircases inside, it had no fire or emergency exit. So rushing down the stairs had not helped the panicked workers as flame was dancing up from the ground floor, added Mamata.
The workers on the first four floors were the worst victims of the fire, said Md Obaidul, a survivor who escaped through a window.
Soon as the fire alarm rang the power went off, said Shiria, another survivor of the fire. “In no time the room got filled with hot smoke and we started scrambling to find a way in the dark,” she said, adding that most of the victims died of suffocation.
Shiria is now worried if the workers would get their salary this month. Like many she had also joined the factory for a wage of around $ 40 per month.
“How about those who lost their identity cards in the incident, would they be paid?” she asked on Sunday evening standing in front of the burnt building.
Meanwhile, expressing solidarity with Tazreen employees workers of other factories in Ashulia and Savar areas brought out a procession in Nischintapur village. The procession ended at the gate of Tazreen Fashions.

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