Rescuers have started using heavy equipment to remove the wreckage of Rana Plaza as no more traces of life were noticed under the concrete ruins 110 hours after the deadliest accident in the history of garment industry.
The move effectively signals the end of the desperate search for survivors in the ruins of concrete and steel of the nine-storey building.
Two hydraulic cranes started to work at around 11.30pm Sunday with one of them first taking out a pillar.
Brigadier General Abu Sayeed Mohammad, who is supervising the drive, told bdnews24.com at around 1:30am Monday they searched the front of the building, but did not find anyone alive.
”Now, we are slowly removing pillars from the rear (of the building) and putting those at a nearby canal,” he said. “We are very much cautious (in our action).”
At around 2:40am, plumes of smoke billowed out of the building which resembled a sandwitch. Fire-fighters were throwing large amounts of water in every direction. A fire had broken out suddenly at one of the tunnels drilled through the debris of the building at around 10pm on Sunday, injuring three fire-fighters.
Although hydraulic cranes and bulldozers to bore a hole from the top of the building were brought to the site a few days ago, authorities had kept them at bay saying there top priority was to rescue people alive.
The rescuers were trying to pull out a woman alive until 10pm when the fire started. The woman could not be lifted out alive either.
”We could not save the woman… She was Shahina and hailed from Kushtia,” one of the injured fire fighters told reporters, his voice choking.
The massive salvage mission kicked off soon after that.
Army officials then took journalists behind the building covering some 35,000 square feet area and said they had already started the “second phase of the rescue mission”.
”We have made the move assuming that none of those still trapped inside is alive,” Brigadier General Ajmal Kabir, leading this operation, said.
He said they were working with extra care and added “We are taking time to move ahead. The work will progress slowly.”
Earlier, everyone including journalists was asked to evacuate the site. Only the army and Fire Service and Civil Defence members were present there.
These equipment will also drill a central hole from the top to look for dead bodies and, just in case, anyone still alive.
Rescuers had been manually shifting concrete blocks with the help of light equipment to claw through the remnants for survivors.
General Officer Commanding Maj Gen Chowdhury Hasan Suhrawardy of Bangladesh Army’s 9th Infantry Division, who is coordinating the salvage operations, had said on Sunday morning heavy machines would be pressed in service to clear the wreckage if no traces of people being alive in amidst the rubble were there.
Soon after his comment, five people were rescued from under the pile of debris delaying the use of machinery.
Rescue workers had continued their search operation using hand-held machines like cutters, pick axels, shovels and drills to dig tunnels or foxholes through the fallen structure throughout the day.
They had been seen slowly moving out from the wreckage site. A hydraulic crane, dozers and loaders were stationed in front of the collapsed building.
Maj Gen Suhrawardy tried to justify the use of heavy machines at a press briefing held in the morning.
“We had prioritised the lives trapped under there for the past few days. But it is difficult to continue working manually at this stage of the rescue operation. So we wish to use some technology to aid the manual work.”
The chief representative of Bangladesh Air Force in the rescue mission, Flight Lieutenant Sanjib Saha, said the rescue team will soon use bulldozers, cranes, forklifts and excavators.
Cranes and forklifts will be used to remove heavy pieces of concrete from the site.
Excavators and bulldozers will also be used to remove the debris. The Army has several loaders and trucks on standby to take away the bricks and concrete.
Besides the Army, several private companies have provided cranes, bulldozers and loaders along with other machinery.
Rana Plaza came was reduced to rubble on Wednesday, burying thousands of garment owners working inside it. So far almost 2,433 people have been rescued.
Though it was not clear exactly how many people were inside the building when it collapsed, an estimate put the figure to be around 3,500.
The death toll was revised down on Sunday.
Savar police Inspector Aminur Rahman put the count at 377 at around 3pm. He earlier had said the figure was 397.
"There was some mistake in the count," the police officer in charge at the Adhar Chandra School – the place where bodies were being kept – said.
He added a total of 320 bodies were handed over to the relatives and 57 more, awaiting recognition, were sent to the Dhaka Medical College and Hospital and Mitford Hospital.
Similar 'confusions' were also looming over the number of people still missing.
Although, authorities earlier said the number is 1168, Sub-Inspector Abdul Alim said they were not being able to count the number properly at this moment due to "lack of time."
Monir Hossain, Savar district’s Assistant Superintendent of Police, however, said they had started making a list on computers from Sunday.