DHAKA, Bangladesh - Dozens of people were killed after a devastating blaze raced through a garment factory that supplies major multinationals such as Gap and J.C. Penney near Bangladesh's capital Tuesday.
Many of the dead included trapped workers who jumped from the building engulfed by flames, witnesses at the scene said.
Fire official Golam Mostafa said the fire started in a 10-story factory owned by local business giant Ha-Meem Group in the Ashulia industrial zone, just outside Dhaka. It was not clear what caused the blaze, and the government ordered an investigation.
Interior Minister Shahara Khatun said after visiting the site that her ministry would probe whether it was related to recent violent protests at textile factories over wages.
Monir Hossain, a local journalist at the scene, said that the blaze broke out on the two upper floors during a lunch break. A gate on a stairwell was locked, trapping people inside the factory, which mainly produces T-shirts for international brands, he quoted witnesses as saying.
Another journalist, Rafiqul Islam, said he saw at least 25 bodies being loaded onto ambulances.
Diganta television reported at least 27 people died and more than 100 were injured. ATN News also said rescuers recovered 27 bodies.
Officials predicted the death toll would rise, Islam said.
A witness named Kader said he saw 50 to 60 people jumping off the 10th floor to escape the fire, according to Associated Press Television News. Kader, like many Bangladeshis, uses one name.
About 13,000 people work at the factory on shifts each day, though most were outside buying lunch when the fire started, Islam said.
Soldiers and police cordoned off the building as firefighters continued their search. By Tuesday evening, the fire was under control, said the fire department's deputy director, Abdur Rashid.
The company and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association announced they would provide $1,370 in compensation to each family of the dead and pay for the treatment of the injured.
Bangladesh has about 4,000 garment factories that export more than $10 billion worth of products a year, mainly to the United States and Europe. Customers include Wal-Mart, Tesco, H&M, Zara, Carrefour, Gap, Metro, J.C. Penney, Marks & Spencer, Kohl's, Levi Strauss, and Tommy Hilfiger.