28 factory workers killed after flood in illegal Moroccan garment factory

RABAT (AP/AFP) – Heavy rains flooded an illegal garment factory in the northern Moroccan city of Tangier, killing at least 28 workers on Monday, state television quoted a medical official as saying.

That raised the death toll from 24, reported earlier by the Moroccan news agency MAP. Local authorities said firefighters and emergency workers rescued 10 people from the factory, in the basement of a residential villa. Rescuers searched for others who might have been trapped in the sudden flooding.

The total number of labourers at the site wasn’t immediately known. An investigation was opened. A shaken unidentified woman who emerged from the flooded basement told TanjaNews, a local site, that no one was prepared for the deadly deluge.

“There was nothing to worry about. We were working as usual,” the woman said. “And then because it was raining, as you can see … the water started entering, a little water, even my shoes didn’t get wet. But suddenly …” She couldn’t finish her sentence.

To meet growing international demand, numerous factories in Morocco, notably in Casablanca and Tangier, rely on unregulated shadow factories to speed up production and meet deadlines. Factories subcontract to such illegal units to better compete with cheaper Chinese and Turkish products. Such hidden factories are mainly located in residential areas and up to 40 people often work in them, sometimes minors.

Morocco’s informal sector plays a key role in the economy, with over half of the country’s textile and leather production coming from unregulated operations, according to Morocco’s employers’ association. Many fail to meet official safety standards, it says.

“How can dozens of workers enter the garage of a residential building for years… without local authorities noticing?”asked local rights group the Northern Observatory for Human Rights.

Emergency services gather at the site of an illegal underground textile workshop that flooded after heavy rain fall in Morocco’s city of Tangiers on February 8. PHOTO: AFP