Mohsin Raza / Reuters

Death toll rises in Pakistan factory collapse

At least 21 people killed in latest tragedy to spotlight poor safety standards in South Asia

Rescuers at the site of a collapsed four-story factory building in eastern Pakistan continued to dig through the rubble on Thursday, as the death toll rose to 21, officials said, describing the latest tragedy to spotlight poor safety standards in South Asia.

Rescue officials said 102 survivors had so far been pulled from the wreckage of the factory, which manufactured polythene shopping bags 12 miles south of the eastern city of Lahore, and collapsed on Wednesday night.

"The building collapsed more than 24 hours ago and we have a hope to find more survivors," Jam Sajjad Hussain, a spokesman from the state rescue agency, told The Associated Press.

Earlier, officials estimated as many as 250 people – including women and children – had been in the building when it collapsed, Pakistani news site reported citing local authorities. Rescuers had to move slowly, government officials said, to avoid further injuries to those still trapped.

Muhammad Ramzan, 22, one of the survivors, said that he had witnessed cracks appearing in the structure moments before it collapsed.

"Suddenly, I saw cracks appearing in the pillars. I immediately drew the owner’s attention towards the cracks. He was watching them when the roof collapsed and I saw him being crushed by a heap of concrete that led to his death," he told Reuters.

Many survivors were able to guide rescuers by calling relatives using their mobile phones.

"I ran towards the stairs but they collapsed before I reached there and then the whole building collapsed. I stayed in touch with my father on phone and was recovered after 13 hours,” said Mohammad Asghar, 16, who suffered a broken arm and a head injury.

The cause of the collapse is yet to be determined. It happened just over a week after a 7.5-magnitude earthquake hit Pakistan, killing 273 people and damaging nearly 75,000 homes.

Injured survivors said the factory's owner, who was adding a new floor to the building, had ignored advice from his contractor and pleas from his workers to stop construction after cracks in the walls followed the earthquake.

Pakistan's construction sector is plagued by poor oversight and developers frequently flout building codes.

In September 2012, 289 people burned to death in a fire at a garment factory in the southern city of Karachi. On the same day, a fire at a shoe factory in Lahore killed 25.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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