A devastating fire engulfed a multistory shopping center in the Pakistani port city of Karachi on Saturday, killing at least 10 people and injuring dozens more, officials said. The disaster drew attention to the continuing fire risks in a densely populated city where building codes are often ignored.
The fire began around 6:30 a.m. on the second floor of the RJ Mall, a commercial high-rise that housed call centers and other businesses in addition to shops, on a busy road in the city. The blaze quickly spread to the fourth, fifth and sixth floors, trapping several dozen people.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Video footage captured the scene as rescuers worked to get victims out. Firefighters tackled the blaze with extinguishers, their efforts hampered by thick smoke.
“When the fire started, I just ran out of the building,” Zaheed Ahmed, a worker at a clothing shop in the mall, said in an interview. “The smoke was so thick, I couldn’t understand what happened.”
Karachi, the country’s economic hub with a population of 20.3 million, is home to a vast network of factories and towering high-rises, but the city’s firefighting infrastructure is inadequate to deal with its frequent fires. This past week, urban planners and engineers at a symposium said that about 90 percent of all structures in Karachi — residential, commercial and industrial — lacked fire prevention and firefighting systems.
In April, four firefighters died and nearly a dozen others were hurt after a huge fire broke out in a garment factory in Karachi, and 10 people were killed in a fire at a chemical factory in August 2021. In the deadliest such episode, hundreds of workers died in 2012 when a multistory garment factory caught fire.
“Government officials rarely inspect the industrial, residential and commercial buildings, and therefore building safety codes are often overlooked, allowing for the existence of hazardous conditions that go unnoticed,” Qazi Khizer, vice chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent watchdog, said in an interview.
“This negligence has created a culture of complacency, where property owners and businesses prioritize profit over the safety of their occupants and employees,” he said.