LAHORE – The death toll from Monday’s factory collapse climbed to 18 as rescue efforts were still continuing Tuesday evening. The three-storey structure, in Hassan Town on the Multan Road, presented the look of a ghost house as the men and machinery dug in the hope of finding any survivors.

According to official sources, many more employees of the veterinary medicine manufacturing facility are trapped in the basement of Orient Lab (Pvt) Limited. Therefore, the rescuers are slowly and carefully removing the debris.

Meanwhile, emotional scenes were witnessed at the wrecked site on Tuesday morning as the rescue workers successfully pulled a 60-year-old woman alive from the debris after 32 hours of the tragedy. “She is alive and well. It’s a miracle,” the crowed at the scene cheered. The rescue workers immediately shifted her to a local hospital for therapy and medical treatment, though she had remained unhurt.

Relatives of few other women and boys, feared trapped under the debris, were impatiently waiting for good news. Several people were praying for the victims and some were consoling the relatives and family members of those still missing.

Rescue-1122 officials on Tuesday evening confirmed that at least 18 dead bodies had been recovered. As many as 15 others were pulled alive during the operation so far. The identification of two of the bodies, including that of a 25-year-old woman and a boy, aged 16, was yet to be ascertained. At least 13 women are among the dead.

“There are still some dead bodies under the debris,” a rescue worker said. The rescue operation is underway and it could take several hours to complete,” a Rescue-1122 spokesman said, adding, heavy machinery was being used to remove the debris.

The rescue workers continued operation during the night by fixing heavy lights around the site. The local residents and a good number of volunteers were also seen assisting the rescuers in the operation. Till Tuesday evening, it was not clear what had caused the powerful blast. But boiler explosion was still a strong likelihood.

Some factory employees told this reporter that many gas cylinders had been installed inside the factory. Apart from a (SNGPL) gas connection, the factory management had also placed a number of LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) cylinders that were used during gas load shedding. “There is a strong possibility that the gas cylinders exploded due to leakage when the workers began work on early Monday after two-day holidays,” a source in the factory said.  SSP (Investigations) Abdul Razzaq Cheema visited the site and told reporters that raids were under way to nab the owners. He said the factory owners had fled after locking their residences. Most of the employees at Orient Lab (Pvt) Limited, owned by Shiekh Zubair and Sheikh Zaheer, were underage and underpaid children and women.

According to local residents, they heard a huge and powerful explosion at around 8:30 am on Monday, followed by hue and cry everywhere in the locality. Officials said that the building was constructed in sheer violation of the building bylaws. According to factory workers, no less than 60 people were at work on Monday when the building collapsed.

A team of police investigators probing into the building collapse tragedy headed by DIG Mubashar Ullah visited the site, interviewed the nearby residents, and thoroughly examined the leftovers. Later, country’s top social welfare activist Abdul Sattar Edhi visited the wreckage site and expressed his condolences with the relatives of the victims. The founder of Edhi Foundation also visited Jinnah Hospital and distributed cash among the victims.

Meanwhile, many of the dead were buried in their native graveyards amid tears. A good number of people attended their funeral prayers.