TANGERANG (Indonesia) • At least 46 people were killed and dozens more injured in a blaze that tore through a fireworks factory outside Jakarta yesterday, police said, triggering explosions and sending plumes of black smoke into the air.
Many of the charred bodies of victims were found clustered at the back of the factory in an industrial complex in Tangerang, indicating there may have been a panicked rush to flee the flames.
"We are still evacuating victims... there are 46 body bags. The evacuation is ongoing," Tangerang Kota police chief Harry Kurniawan told Agence France-Presse.
The police revised the death toll down to 46 from their earlier figure of 47, but said about 10 people remained unaccounted for.
"Those who died are completely unrecognisable, totally burnt," firefighter Oni Sahroni, who was at the scene, was quoted as saying on Metro TV.
Parts of the building collapsed after being gutted by the blaze, which also left nearby cars and motorcycles scorched. Witnesses reported hearing blasts at the site.
Media reports quoted witnesses as saying there were two explosions, one at around 10am (11am Singapore time) and another about three hours later, both of which could be heard kilometres away.
"My friends and I and some police officers knocked down a wall so people could escape, then the workers came out," local resident Beni Benteng told AFP. "I saw people, including women, jumping from above."
The blaze was brought under control by late afternoon, and the authorities were working to recover the bodies from the building.
Desperate friends and families thronged a nearby police hospital in Keramat Jati looking for loved ones. Video footage shot by an AFP stringer showed victims, covered in bandages, laid out on stretchers and others with minor injuries sitting in the hallways or outside.
A factory worker at the hospital said the fire erupted in the middle of production. "I don't know how it happened, I was working outside the factory and there were some explosions. Four cars exploded and almost all motorbikes also exploded," Mr Ade, who suffered burns to his arms and legs, told AFP.
A doctor in the emergency unit at Tangerang General Hospital told Metro TV that some of those he was treating suffered burns to more than 80 per cent of their bodies. Three were in critical condition.
The factory - part of a complex that borders a residential area - had been in operation for only six weeks, district government official Toni Rustoni told Metro TV.
Some relatives of the victims have already begun demanding action by the company.
A woman whose 15-year-old sister was seriously injured in the fire, said the company, Panca Buana Cahaya Sukses, must not ignore the victims. "Don't neglect her - the insurance, the treatment, they must pay for everything," Ms Diana told Metro TV through tears.
Police spokesman Yuwono said: "We are still looking into the cause of the fire." He added that for now, police were prioritising evacuating victims, and were also investigating the factory's permit.
But Manpower Minister Hanif Dhakiri has already said the explosions may have occurred because of a lack of safe operating procedures at the factory.
"The toughest sanction could be the revocation of their business licence," he was quoted as saying by The Jakarta Post daily.
Deadly fires are not uncommon in Indonesia due to poor safety standards that are routinely flouted. Seventeen people were killed when a fire ripped through a karaoke bar on Sulawesi Island in 2015. In 2009, a fire killed 20 people at a karaoke bar in Medan, on Sumatra Island.