Bodies found months after factory blaze

The body of a man missing since a paint factory fire two months ago has been found in the gutted ruins of the building.

AL SHARJAH - JULY 12,2010 -  Debris of the burned National Paints Factory in Sharjah . ( Paulo Vecina/The National )

SHARJAH // The body of a man missing since a paint factory fire two months ago has been found in the gutted ruins of the building. Khurshid Ahmed, 27, was an electrician at the National Paints warehouse destroyed in the blaze on May 11. A second body, also found in the building last week, has not been identified. Mr Ahmed, from Uttar Pradesh state in India, was reported missing by his brother immediately after the fire. Tabreer Ahmed, 38, who works in a laundry in Dubai, said he had continued to ask National Paints for information about his brother, and the company thought he had absconded. National Paints refused to comment.

His brother worked at National Paints for three years, Mr Ahmed said, and had recently married when he returned to India on holiday. "This is now a confirmation of his death," he said. "It's going to be more heartbreaking to the family than the news of his disappearing." Mr Ahmed planned to call his family last night to break the news. He said he would await any assistance the Indian community or diplomatic missions could offer to repatriate the body.

His brother died trying to help firefighters, Mr Ahmed said. The body was found near a chemical tank where the fire is believed to have started. Both bodies were found by company employees who were given access to the building to start clean-up operations. The remains were taken to the Sharjah Police forensic laboratory. A police spokesman confirmed that Mr Khurshid was one of those found, although a forensic laboratory expert said they needed to perform DNA tests before conclusive identification.

The blaze, described by authorities as the biggest factory fire in the emirate, took firefighters from all over the country more than seven hours to control. It started again two days later, and for a third time five days later. Sharjah Civil Defence said initially there were no deaths in the fire. Yesterday a worker in the area said Tabreer Ahmed had repeatedly appeared in the residential neighbourhood near National Paints asking about his brother.

"His friends tried to console him, but he was so depressed and said he had no answers from the family back in India who were asking him to trace Khurshid," the worker said. A National Paints employee said chemicals used in making paints could have disguised the smell of the decomposing bodies, preventing firefighters from locating them in an initial search. "Even if they had noticed the smell, they would just think it's chemicals and they are supposed to smell," he said.

The emirate has suffered an outbreak of fires as the weather grows hotter. Last week a blaze destroyed the Al Kuwait apartment tower, and more than 200 families had to be rehoused. Authorities have blamed many of the larger industrial fires on companies that ignore safety rules. "There are always ongoing inspection campaigns, mostly in industrial areas, to ensure that all companies abide by safety rules," said Col Waheed al Serkal, the Sharjah Civil Defence director. "But as you know Sharjah has the biggest industrial area zone in the country, so at times some premises are on fire before they are inspected."

Doctors have warned residents to avoid exposure to smoke from fires, especially those at petrochemical companies, as it exposes them to health risks.