At least 16 garment factory workers in Bangladesh were killed and 100 others injured in a stampede Wednesday as they tried to flee a fire started by an electrical short-circuit, police said.
Police said the gates of the Europe Garments factory in the capital Dhaka were locked, causing several hundred trapped workers to panic on a stair well, resulting in the deaths and injuries.
"So far 16 people, mostly women, are confirmed dead, but the toll might go up as some of the injured were in a critical condition," police officer Abdullah Bhuiyan said.
Police and fire fighters rushed to the factory, but could not immediately open the locked gate, Bhuiyan said.
"Angry relatives of the victims attacked us and hurled stones, injuring several people, including a police officer on the head, as they wanted us to break down the gate, which we cannot unless ordered," one policeman said.
The gate was only opened after the security men were found.
The fire started on the sixth floor of the building.
Quoting survivors, police said there was a explosion as the fire started and a black cloud of smoke quickly engulfed part of the factory.
Some of the workers suffered serious injuries when they jumped off verandahs to escape the fire, witnesses and police said.
Others had burns injuries and suffered smoke inhalation, witnesses and police said.
"I am shocked, I am looking for my daughter," said one distraught woman as she ran from one end of the building to the other.
Official sources said an investigation would be launched to ascertain the cause of death and legal action could be taken against the owners of the factory if they were found to be at fault.
Locked doors in the hundreds of garment factories in Bangladesh are a common practice to prevent stealing, but have led to deaths in other fires.
Wednesday's blaze was the latest in a string of factory fires which have claimed around 300 lives in the past decade.
In November last year, 47 workers employed in a towel factory in Narsinghdi district, 30 kilometres (18 miles) from capital Dhaka, were killed after they were trapped inside when a fire broke out. It was one of the worst factory fires in Bangladesh's history.
A rash of fires at garment factories last year forced the authorities to tighten workplace safety, including introducing mandatory emergency exits and wider staircases.
"The staircase was a standard one, but if the gate is locked then that does not help in such situations," a police officer said.
The clothing and textiles industry, which employs more than 1.5 million workers, mostly women, from poor rural families, is the country's second largest export earner -- DHAKA (AFP)
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