Owner and manager of Moroccan factory arrested over 55-fatality fire

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

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Police have arrested the owner of a mattress factory in Hay Hassini, Casablanca, Morocco which burned down in a disaster that claimed 55 lives. His son, who was the factory's manager, was also arrested.

Those killed — 35 of whom were women — were trapped inside by locked fire exits, which were barricaded to stop theft during working hours. "The people who died were either asphyxiated or burned," commented a firefighter. 17 were wounded. Moustapha Taouil of the Casablanca civil protection service said the blaze was triggered by an inadequatly maintained electric saw on the ground floor. The initial fire quickly engulfed all four storeys of the building.

The Rosamor factory was clearly operating unsafely, officials said. "It's a building with a ground floor and three upper floors specialising in making furniture, therefore there were highly inflammable products," said Taouil. "We confirmed during our examination that the owners of the premises failed to respect legal requirements for this kind of industry including staff training... the owner in contravention of the law, locked staff inside the plant apparently to prevent theft of raw material. It was this that prevented them getting out. The fire was caused by lack of proper maintenance of certain machines and electrical installations." He said a short circuit on the ground floor, which was filled with power saws, triggered the disaster.

As a result of the investigatons, "The plant's owner, Adil Moufarreh, and his son Abdelali Moufarreh, who was the manager, have been taken into custody after having been questioned by police," said an official.

28-year-old factory employee Fadila Khadija said "There was no emergency exit, the extinguishers were empty and the working conditions were difficult." One source said that windows were also unusable as they were covered with iron bars. 20-year-old survivor Omar Elaaz said "I was working on the first floor as an upholsterer. The smoke came up from the ground floor where the foam rubber, wood and glue are stored. I used a gas bottle to break the wire mesh that protects every window." 31-year-old upholsterer Hakim Hakki told of his own lucky escape and its effect on him from hospital: "I jumped from the third floor with four other colleagues while the women, who didn't dare to follow us, perished in the inferno. God saved me but I'll never forget those who died."

The father of deceased 19-year-old Abdelazziz Darif said his son was paid 250 dirhams (20 euro/31 US dollars) per week and did not have social insurance.


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