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B'desh collapse: 397 dead, owner arrested on India border

Last updated on: April 28, 2013 19:35 IST

The death toll in the worst building collapse in the history of Bangladesh today rose to nearly 400, even as the fugitive owner of the 8-storey structure was arrested dramatically while attempting to flee to India.


Sohel Rana was arrested by the country's elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) from Benapole, one of the 14 land ports with India, just as he was about to cross into West Bengal, making this afternoon's arrest the fifth in the case.


 "RAB arrested Sohel Rana from Benapole frontiers as he tried to flee the country," state minister for local government Jahangir Kabir Nanak told newsmen.

The structure that housed five garment factories, a bank branch and around three hundred shops employing thousands of workers, collapsed on April 24 leaving at least 375 people dead, a day after authorities issued a warning regarding cracks in the building.

According to officials, Rana erected the building defying safety rules and proper clearance.

Meanwhile, Bangladeshi rescuers launched the second phase of rescue operations, as they found little evidence of survivors under tonnes of debris.

So far, around 2,443 survivors have been rescued from beneath the rubble with nine persons pulled out alive on Sunday.

"I would like to tell you, we are getting little rhythm of life under the debris. Even if some people are alive they are not responding," said Major General Hassan Sarwardy, Commander of the rescue campaign.

"We have now unanimously decided to enter into the second phase of the salvage campaign using heavy equipment like cranes (to remove the rubbles) instead of manual efforts (to rescue survivors)," said Sarwardy during a briefing after a coordination meeting of the rescue agencies.

Rescuers said they were trying to pull out other survivors manually under an extended first phase of the rescue drill making their ways through a borehole.

Rescuers would now enter the rubbles on crane boxes, creating boreholes from the top and pull out survivors, if any, as it appears impossible to penetrate the concrete ruins manually using rod cutters and hand saws, he said.

"But rescuers will select calculated sites for boreholes, cautiously entering inside the rubble, so that the lives of survivors or their own are not in danger," said Sarwardy, who commands the army's Savar-based 9th division.

A senior fire brigade official told newsmen at the scene the time limit for extending the manual rescue operations were extended as survivors were found "miraculously" alive even after expiry of 72 hours yesterday, a time frame considered maximum for survival under such debris.

Today's arrest came three days after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ordered arrest of Rana and the owners of the five garment factories housed in the structure as they apparently forced several thousand workers to join the production line even after cracks were reported and warnings were issued.

Owners of two garment units and two engineers responsible for building safety were arrested and remanded in police custody on Saturday on court orders as the death toll continued to rise, prompting angry workers to take to the streets.

Police said chairman of New Wave Buttons and New Wave Style factories Bazlus Samad and managing director of one of the plants Mahmudur Rahaman Tapash and municipal engineers Imtimam Hossain and Alam Mian would face charges of involuntary murders of several hundred people.

The high court earlier ordered personal appearance of the building and factory owners on April 30 to explain their role in the tragedy.

Media report today said Bangladesh police were looking for a Spanish businessman and part-owner of a factory.

Police said they had filed preliminary charges of "causing death due to negligence" against managing director of the Phantom-Tac apparel factory David Mayor and the owners of another four manufacturing firms housed inside RanaPlaza, the report said.

According to another report, shirts with Benetton labels have been found in the wreckage, despite the Italian group denying it used a supplier there.

Blue shirts labelled 'United Colors of Benetton' were found at the scene where the manufacturer New Wave Bottoms, which lists the group as a client on its website, was based, the report said.

When asked about its links, the fashion label had stated last week that "people involved in the collapse of the factory in Bangladesh were not Benetton Group's suppliers."

Anisur Rahman Savar
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