LAHORE -

The death toll of LDA Plaza inferno swelled to 28 on Friday, 24 hours after the blaze tore through the seventh floor of the 13-strorey building on Edgerton Road in the heart of Lahore.

Since most of bodies were decomposed, these were sent to a lab for DNA identification, police sources said.

Firefighters said Friday night the blaze was brought under control and the crew recovered 17 more bodies, including a woman, from the ninth floor of the building where the search operation was still underway to find out more possible victims. Seven people were reported killed on Thursday in the fire.

“The chances of more victims are slim but the search operation will continue,” a spokesman for the Punjab Emergency Service (Rescue1122) told reporters outside the burnt building.

The blaze broke out in the LDA building on Thursday at about 11:00am when hundreds of employees, mostly government servants, were busy routine work. According to fire brigade officials the blaze broke out because of short-circuiting in the power generating system during loadshedding.

The blaze totally burnt the fifth, sixth and seventh floors which housed government departments’ offices. It engulfed the lower floors gradually and parts of the eighth and ninth floors were also burnt. The authorities feared that the badly damaged building might fall to the ground at any time as the rescuers were struggling to cool down the plaza.

The bodies’ identification team of the Rescue-1122 recovered 17 charred bodies from the ninth floor and the bodies were shifted to the May Hospital to ascertain their identities through forensic examination.

Official sources believed that most of the dead included the LDA staff and employees of other corporations. Two senior officers including a director and personal staff officer to the LDA director general were also said to be among the dead. Several offices of various corporations including LDA, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Authority (SMEDA), Export Promotion Bureau, a local radio station, and two leading banks were located in the building.

An official said the families of the missing victims were in touch with the city district government and the LDA authorities to know the whereabouts of their loved ones. A number of families of the missing victims waited impatiently outside the disaster site as fire fighters and rescue workers entered the building to pull out the dead after the fire was controlled on Friday afternoon.

Many emotional scenes were witnessed outside the site when the rescuers were shifting the sacked-packed bodies to the hospital. Mourning families were frustrated as there was no official present on the spot to share details with them. The helpless families were seen praying to Almighty Allah for the safety of the missing victims.

The firefighting strategy adopted by the Rescue-1122 further aggravated the situation as the fire spread to other parts of the building when the helicopters were called in to rescue the trapped victims. The helicopters were unable to lift the people from the top floors because of the long-towers installed on the rooftop of the building.

Eyewitnesses said the fire spread speedily when the helicopters reached close to the building because of the wind speed. Ultimately, the authorities had to send back the helicopters and rescuer operators were engaged in the operation. It was learnt that the Rescue Director General Dr Rizwan Naseer had floated the ‘idea’ to call in the helicopters to airlift the trapped victims without realising the ground realities particularly the design of the building.

The provincial government had already ordered an inquiry to probe into the happening following reports that official record and several important files of the LDA were also gutted in the fire. The floors that have been destroyed consisted of offices related to finance and audit operations.

Reportedly, original files and records of constriction projects like Tajpur, Bahria Town and other heavy funded projects were kept in these offices.

Many people including the officials believed conspiracy in the mysterious fire incident questioning why the fire services were called in 54 minutes after the fire erupted. Several offices were already brunt on the upper floors when the rescuers responded to the emergency.

More than 24 hours after the fire erupted at the LDA Plaza, smoke and flames continued to be seen on the ninth floor of the building on Friday. And rain fell on the ashes.