Kausar Parveen Ahmed, Baldia Town, Karachi
People in the hundreds gathered outside the burning factory, all desperately trying to figure out how to save those trapped inside. Some are scuffling with the emergency services personnel, other with the police constabulary who are trying to gain control of the area. The fire rages, its flames pouring out through windows and doorways, making any chance of entering or exiting the building almost impossible. Ambulances come screaming in, and fire engines struggle to get past the traffic choked roads. Three hundred or more people are trapped within, and no one seems to know where to begin the rescue effort. Cordons are set up as more and more people arrive at the scene, and attempt to rescue people. People are tearing at the building with hammers, and fists. Scuffles break out as families and others are kept from breaking through the cordon and rushing into the building. The pleas of those trapped inside are heard over the arguments, abuse, screams and protests of the people outside. Emergency personnel are unsure what to do, as there are no emergency exits, and the windows are barricaded – the owners wanted to prevent theft of their goods. There are no sprinkler systems, nor fire extinguishers. Families receive telephone calls from those trapped inside, begging and giving them details about their locations. Outside, fire trucks are sent back because they arrived without water, while others had faulty taps and could not use their hoses. Police are beating back men who are trying to break down a factory wall, afraid that the entire structure will collapse. Rescue teams are standing around, afraid to enter the structure. Mothers and fathers are sitting across the street, beating their chests and pulling at their hair, begging some someone to do something. The building burns for hours. The fire crews continue their efforts. Ambulances disappear into the night with the corpses. As the night lengthens, the telephone calls from inside fall silent, as do the pleas. The people outside – resigned and defeated, can only stand and watch the flames.
When she finishes, she leans back in exhaustion and wipes her face. There is silence in the room once again. My ear still rings from the sound of the screams.