Bangladesh garment factory fire kills nine

SRIPUR, Bangladesh - A huge fire at a garment factory on the outskirts of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka has killed at least nine people, officials said Wednesday, in the latest industrial disaster to underline the country's poor safety record.

The blaze at the Aswad Knit Composite factory in Gazipur broke out at 6pm (1200 GMT) Tuesday and burned overnight, engulfing a warehouse and two other buildings as firefighters struggled to bring it under control.

Dilruba Khanom, the district's chief government administrator, said emergency services were waiting until sunrise to complete their search of the factory and he feared the death toll could rise.

"Fire officials have so far recovered nine bodies from the burnt factory," he told AFP in the early hours of Wednesday.

"They have managed to control the fire in most parts of the factory, but the warehouse is still burning.

"The bodies are charred beyond recognition."

Safety standards at Bangladesh's 4,500 garment factories, where workers toil for 10-12 hours a day for low wages, are notoriously lax and fires are a common problem.

In November, a blaze at the Tazreen garment factory in Dhaka killed 111 workers, the country's worst such incident.

The government had launched an investigation into Tuesday's fire, Khanom said. Earlier police and fire officials said the blaze started in a boiler.

Local police chief Amir Hossain told AFP it was a "massive fire" and 10 brigade teams had been working to put it out, but luckily most of the 3,000 people who work at the factory had left before the blaze started.

Local fire service chief M. Akteruzzaman told AFP firefighters had struggled to bring the flames under control.

"There is an acute shortage of water in the area, which makes the job to control the fire very difficult," he said.

Fire service director Mahbubur Rahman said the blaze was allowed to spread because emergency services took more than an hour to reach the site in the Sripur area of Gazipur, north of Dhaka.

"There is no fire station within a 3O kilometre (20 mile) radius of the factory," he said.

Industrial accidents are common in Bangladesh, where the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in April killed 1,129 people, in the nation's worst industrial disaster.

Since then, protests over poor wages, benefits and working conditions have shaken the country's garment sector, the country's economic mainstay.

Thousands of Bangladesh garment workers walked off the job last month, blocking roads and attacking factories outside the capital and demanding a $100 minimum monthly wage.

Bangladesh is the world's second largest garment manufacturer after China, with the bulk of its $21.5 billion annual shipments going to top Western retailers such as Walmart, H&M and Inditex.

But the vast majority of the impoverished nation's three million workers earn a basic monthly wage of 3,000 taka ($38) - among the lowest in the in the world - following a tripartite deal between unions, the government and manufacturers in August 2010.