KARACHI: Seventeen people lost their lives and 11 others injured in a powerful explosion that wrecked a bank in Shershah (SITE area) of the metropolitan city on Saturday afternoon. It was feared that some more victims might be trapped under the building debris as the search continued into early hours of Sunday.
Earlier, around 1:50pm a powerful explosion razed the building to the ground. The boom was heard for miles and shattered windowpanes of nearby buildings besides damaging vehicles parked in its proximity.
The building housing the bank, near the Paracha Chowk, was built on Sher Shah Nullah and the powerful blast caused severe damage to the bank, killing and injuring most of the clients and staff.
Several people either alive or dead were trapped under the debris requiring heavy machinery to retrieve them. The ambulance services transported the casualties to the Civil Hospital, Karachi.
While the rescue work was underway, another minor explosion also took place, causing panic and fear but fortunately it did not cause any damage. Apparently, it resulted when live electric wires came in contact with gas line.
The hospital authorities and the police had initially confirmed 15 deaths and 16 injured in the explosion at the time the story was being filed. Later, two more bodies were pulled from under the debris, raising the death toll to 17, confirmed SHO Zawwar Husain. However, the condition of a few injured persons was said to be critical.
It was also reported that 13 bank staffers were on duty at the time of explosion. Zahid, Sardar and Junaid and a security guard, namely Younus were among the dead while Abdul Wahab, Sameer and Arsalan, who were present in the bank at the time luckily remained unhurt.
PTI MNA Alamgir Khan’s father was among those who died in the explosion.
The eyewitness said that there were a few bank customers who were buried beneath the debris as well.
Another eyewitness spoke to Geo News and said that he was having petrol filled in his motorcycle when the blast took place.
He said he saw a few people fall into the nullah underneath the building when the blast took place.
Reacting over the incident, Prime Minister Imran Khan wrote on Twitter: “My heartfelt prayers [and] condolences go to all the families of victims of the twin blasts at Sher Shah Paracha Chowk, Karachi.”
Expressing grief over Alamgir’s loss, he said: “I am especially saddened to hear of the loss of our MNA Alamgir Khan’s father who also perished in the blast. May Allah give him the strength to bear this loss.”
DIG South Kharal said police have obtained CCTV footage of nearby places — the bank and an office.
The police official said that a forensics team also obtained samples from the debris, and that the overall scope of the investigation had been extended. “A clearer picture of what happened will be before us by tonight,” he added.
Tragically while on one hand, the rescuers were trying to retrieve the bodies and the injured from under the debris, on the other hand, some people were seen trying to steal the cash from the bank’s ATM machine, which had fallen into the drain following the powerful explosion.
A heavy contingent of the law enforcers, including police and Rangers, cordoned off the scene of the incident. Experts from the bomb disposal squad and the crime scene unit were also trying to ascertain the actual cause of the explosion. Interestingly, the explosion neither caused fire, traces or smell of any explosive substances around the damaged structure, experts confirmed.
It was difficult to ascertain whether the explosion was due to accumulation of gas in the sewerage line underneath the bank or something went wrong with the gas pipeline. However, the authorities ruled out the possibility of the terrorism and declared it an accidental explosion. “The explosion occurred due to the accumulation of the gases,” the initial report of the bomb disposal squad suggested. “The explosion damaged the bank building, besides the nearby pump and car showrooms.”
The Sui Southern Gas Company in its statement claimed there was no SSGC gas pipeline at the blast site, while those in the vicinity remain intact and undamaged.
Furthermore, the Bomb Disposal Unit in its Clearance Certificate also attributed the blast to an explosion in a sewerage line that was running right beneath the building that was badly damaged.
SSP Keamari Sarfaraz Nawaz told The News: “It is premature to say anything exactly about the nature of the blast, as everything will be finalised in the investigations. But apparently, the explosion occurred due to the accumulation of the gases,” he said, adding “So far 15 deaths have been confirmed of which 13 died on the spot, while two others died shortly after they brought to the hospital.” The officer said that some 11 people were wounded. Eight of them remained admitted to the hospital of which two are in critical condition.”
“The Police would register an FIR. Initially, the case would be registered on behalf of state under PPC sections related to ‘unintentional murder’ (‘Qatl-bis-sabab’)” SSP Nawaz explained. The “conclusive investigations will determine if anyone has to be named in the FIR.”
The building, housing the bank also had different other offices, was badly damaged. The building was constructed over the sewer drain back in 1970s and the bank was about to be shifted to a new place.
Home Secretary Sindh Qazi Shahid Pervez said that all the markets and buildings constructed atop the nullah are illegal, against whom an inquiry has been ordered. He also pledged to launch a big anti-encroachment operation against such structures, as there is no legal value of the lease papers of any property constructed atop the Nullah.
Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah directed the commissioner Karachi to conduct an inquiry and submit a report over its findings, a spokesperson of the chief minister said. “Police officers should be included in the inquiry so that all aspects [of the blast] can be investigated, “ the chief minister said, expressing deep sorrow over the loss of lives in the blast. The CM Shah also instructed the secretary of health to provide necessary facilities to the injured at the Civil Hospital immediately.
Similar explosions, due to the gas accumulation have occurred in Karachi in the past as well. The DC Keamari, Mukhtar Abro, confirmed the SITE Area building was constructed over Nullah. During visit to the scene of the blast, he said the building was constructed over Sher Shah Nullah which is under the jurisdiction of Sindh Industrial Trading Estate, Ltd. The DC said some people had obtained lease documents for constructing the building illegally over the Nullah. He explained that there are other constructions as well over the Sher Shah Nullah and action will be taken against all structures constructed over the drain. As for the collapsed building, he said, there’s a shopping center which will be demolished. In the past, he claimed, several notices were issued to the building’s residents.
Administrator Karachi Barrister Murtaza Wahab said we stand by with the heirs of the victim in this hour of sorrow and grief. The administrator said that the Sindh government’s law does not protect illegal constructions. He said that a commission, headed by a retired judge, will be formed to decide the fate of such buildings.