112 die in Bangladesh garment factory fire

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DHAKA, Bangladesh -- Fire raced through a garment factory that supplies major retailers in the West, killing at least 112 people, many of whom were trapped by the flames because the eight-story building lacked emergency exits, an official said Sunday.

The blaze broke out late Saturday at a factory just outside Bangladesh's capital of Dhaka. It is operated by Tazreen Fashions Ltd., a subsidiary of the Tuba Group, which makes products for Wal-Mart and other companies in the United States and Europe.

Firefighters found at least 100 bodies in the factory, Maj. Mohammad Mahbub, fire department operations director, told The Associated Press. He said 12 other people who were injured after they jumped from the building to escape died at hospitals.

Local media reported that up to 124 people were killed. The cause of the blaze was not immediately clear, and authorities ordered an investigation.

Soldiers and border guards were sent to help police keep order as thousands of onlookers and anxious relatives gathered, Mahbub said.

Tazreen was given a "high risk" safety rating after a May 16, 2011, audit conducted by an "ethical sourcing" assessor for Wal-Mart, according to a document posted on the Tuba Group's website. It did not specify what led to the rating.

Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin Gardner said online documents indicating an orange or "high risk" assessment after the May 2011 inspection and a yellow or "medium risk" report after an inspection in August 2011 appeared to pertain to the Tazreen factory.

The August letter said Wal-Mart would conduct another inspection within one year. Gardner said it was not clear if Wal-Mart did so or whether the factory, which employed about 1,700 people, was still making products for Wal-Mart.

If a factory is rated "orange" three times in a two-year period, Wal-Mart suspends orders for one year. The May 2011 report was the first orange rating for the factory, which opened in 2009 and made polo shirts, fleece jackets and T-shirts.

Neither Tazreen's owner nor Tuba Group officials could be reached for comment.

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The Tuba Group's other clients include Carrefour and Ikea, according to its website. Its factories export garments to the United States, Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands, among other countries.

Mahbub said the fire broke out on the ground floor, which was used as a warehouse, and spread quickly to the upper floors. Many workers who retreated to the roof were rescued, he said.

But he said that with no emergency exits leading outside the building, many victims were trapped, and firefighters recovered 69 bodies from the second floor alone.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed shock at the loss of so many lives.

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