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Rediff.com  » News » Toll in Bangladesh building collapse rises to 250

Toll in Bangladesh building collapse rises to 250

Last updated on: April 25, 2013 22:54 IST

With 250 people killed in one of the worst building collapses in Bangladesh, thousands of distraught people on Thursday watched rescuers search for their loved ones trapped under the debris of the eight-storey complex that had come crashing down within seconds.

"Two-hundred and fifty dead bodies have been pulled out so far," Savar district Superintendent of Police Faruk Khan said.

"So far 2,013 people were rescued alive from under the debris," Major General Abul Hassan Sarwardy, overseeing the rescue campaign, told reporters on the outskirts of Dhaka, where the tragedy took place Wednesday morning.

 Sarwardy, who is the general officer commanding of army's Savar-based 9th division, said that the highly trained military and fire brigade rescuers would continue to search for those who were still trapped under tonnes of debris.

"They are cautiously penetrating inside the wreck using concrete and rod cutters and retrieving the bodies manually.. ...use of heavy equipment could collapse the building further causing more casualties," he said.

Rana Plaza, the eight-storey commercial building that collapsed on Wednesday, housed five garment units supplying Western clothes retailers, a branch of a private bank and about 300 shops.

Locals said around 3,500 workers, mostly women, of the garment factories were working when the tragedy struck.

Twenty four people were rescued alive today from a room inside the building in an operation broadcast live on national television. The rescue was greeted with loud cheers by thousands of people watching the rescuers heroically saving the lives of the people trapped in the rubble.

Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina today vowed to bring to justice the garment factory owners who fled the structure when it caved in.       

"Those who're involved, especially the owner who forced the workers to work there, will be punished...wherever he is, he will be found and brought to justice," Hasina told lawmakers.

Meanwhile, national flag flew at half-mast as Bangladesh declared a day of mourning.

Public anger mounted as reports said hundreds of workers were virtually forced to work despite the potential risks to the building.

Hundreds of workers took to the streets today to protest the deaths in the collapse, blocking several major highways in at least three industrial areas just outside the capital.

The high court ordered the owner of RanaPlaza and the managing directors and chairmen of garment factories housed in the building to appear before it personally on April 30.

Director of the Industrial Police Mostafizur Rahman has blamed the garment factory owners for the collapse, as they were operating their units ignoring the cracks spotted in the building on Tuesday.

"The Industrial Police had asked the owners of the factories to suspend operations after cracks were noticed in RanaPlaza. We had asked them to operate the factories only after a structural inspection by engineers," Rahman said.

The owners of the RanaPlaza in Savar and the garment factories went into hiding fearing arrest, as the regulatory authorities and police filed separate cases accusing them of illegally constructing the structure and exposing the workers to the fatal accident.

Industrial police said two of their detectives were missing and feared dead as they went inside the structure to investigate into its risk exposure at the time of collapse.

Rescuers feared that about 1500 more people were trapped under the debris.

The army commander, overseeing the rescue operation, said they were trying everything possible to rescue all the people trapped by Friday.

Navy and Air Force rescuers also joined the operations. Efforts were underway to provide oxygen under the debris so that the trapped people could breathe.

About 3.6 million people work in Bangladesh's garment industry, making it the world's second-largest apparel exporter with Europe being its main destination.

Bangladesh's booming garment industry has been plagued by fires and other accidents for years. In November last year, 112 workers were killed in a blaze at the Tazreen factory in a nearby industrial suburb.

Following the Tazreen fire, giant US retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc said it would take steps to alleviate safety concerns, while Gap Inc announced a four-step fire-safety programme.

Building collapses are common in Bangladesh as builders openly flout rules and the official construction code.

The country witnessed the last major building collapse in 2005 when over 70 people were killed after a multi-storey garment factory collapsed in the same area.

 

Anisur Rahman in Dhaka
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