The death toll in the collapse of an eight-storey commercial building here in Bangladesh on Friday rose to 304, as authorities raced against time to look for survivors under tonnes of debris even as a total of 2,348 people were rescued alive.
"Our prime target is to rescue the rest of survivors alive as we are running against time," a military spokesman told an official press briefing near the collapse scene, two days after the structure caved in trapping inside unidentified number of people believed to be several thousand.
Inter Service Public Relations director Shaheenul Islam told the briefing that toll so far stood at 304 while 2,348 people were rescued from under tonnes of concrete ruins of the RanaPlaza in Dhaka's suburb as the army-led salvage campaign was underway.
The briefing came as rescuers found some 40 people alive at the most vulnerable backside of the collapsed structure where they penetrated with manual drill machines and rod cutters and retrieved 20 of them in critical conditions.
Ambulances kept outside carried them quickly to different facilities including a nearby combined military hospital as Red Crescent and ordinary volunteers joined hands with rescuers in retrieving them out.
But anxious crowds around the debris turned impatient as concerns were rising after they lost cell phone links with their trapped relatives and friends under the ruins and accused the rescuers of lack of promptness in getting to the still alive but trapped people.
However, the army spokesman said the situation forced "highly trained" rescuers to penetrate inside very cautiously to retrieve them alive as "slightest lack of this cautiousness could kill the survivors".
"You can see heavy cranes and bulldozers here to quickly remove the concrete debris but we can’t use them at the moment as our prime objective is to retrieve the people alive first," he said.
Commander of the salvage campaign, Major General Hassan Sarwardy, earlier said rescuers would look for survivors for one more day estimating they could survive as high as 72 hours under the debris and then might go for a massive campaign to remove debris using heavy equipment.
A fire service official said two babies were born under the debris as their pregnant mothers were trapped under the ruins but they were rescued alive along with their newborn babies.
An official of the makeshift police control room near the scene said 286 retrieved bodies were handed over to their families while they prepared a list of 595 people whose relatives said they were still missing.
Most of the victims of the country's worst ever collapse were garments workers as the building housed five garment units alongside 300 shops and branch of a private bank.
Meanwhile, thousands of garment factory workers in different parts of the capital took to the streets to protest the deaths in Savar and vandalised several vehicles including buses and cars at Shewrapara.
They chanted slogans demanding stern punishment to the owners of RanaPlaza and the factories, who went into hiding after the structure caved in two days back after cracks were reported in the building, which officials said was built illegally defying safety rules.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has promised to expose to justice the fugitive owners of the building and the five garment factories housed there in a parliamentary statement on Thursday.