Thursday 17 October 2019

Indonesia police question factory owner after fire kills 47

The wreckage of the fireworks factory in Tangerang, on the outskirts of Jakarta (AP)
The wreckage of the fireworks factory in Tangerang, on the outskirts of Jakarta (AP)

Indonesian police are questioning the owner of a fireworks factory that exploded into a huge blaze, killing at least 47 people, and have accounted for the safety of three of 10 workers who were reported missing.

Investigators are trying to determine the cause of the fire at the factory in Tangerang, near the capital of Jakarta, and said they did not want to speculate before the investigation is complete.

Safety laws are inconsistently enforced or even ignored in Indonesia, where workers' rights are often treated as a lower priority than economic growth and jobs. Most of the factory's 103 employees were young women earning about £2.20 a day.

"We are now intensively questioning witnesses including the factory owner and manager," said Tangerang police chief Harry Kurniawan.

As investigators try to piece together what happened, relatives went to a police hospital's morgue in eastern Jakarta to identify loved ones.

Officials said bodies were found piled at the rear of the factory and were burned beyond recognition.

"The condition of the corpses was hard to recognise," said Umar Shahab, who heads the medical and health division of Jakarta police. "They can only be identified through DNA and dental data."

Survivors told authorities the fire started in a section of the factory where fireworks are dried.

Witnesses heard a huge explosion followed by smaller blasts as orange flames jumped from the building and columns of black smoke billowed across a nearby residential neighbourhood.

Survivor Ahmad Safri said the workers had poor working conditions in a hot warehouse with noisy engines, but he denied suggestions the building was locked when the fire spread.

"Many panicking workers ran in the wrong direction ... maybe to a generator room that was locked," he said.

He added that some workers were young women and teenagers, but he was not sure if any were under age.

Mr Kurniawan said one of the three people no longer listed as missing was a woman who left the factory before the fire broke out. Two were men who escaped and did not report to police until Friday morning.

"Last night we met one, a woman who was alive and visiting her friends at hospital. She came to the factory but left for home because she was sick, just before the fire happened," he said.

Some 46 injured people are being treated at three hospitals.

The death toll could rise as many of those who escaped suffered extensive burns, according to police.

A local resident told Indonesia's MetroTV that he saw police and residents smash through a wall of the factory so trapped workers could escape. Some of the victims were burning as they ran out, he said.


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