Death hangs heavy as toll hits 294

The death toll at the high-rise collapse at Savar has reached 294 while rescuers are still pulling up survivors from under the debris even 40 hours on.

Published : 25 April 2013, 09:51 AM
Updated : 26 April 2013, 04:45 AM

They think many more are alive in the wreckage while relatives of the missing have said at least 372 people were still unaccounted for.

Rescuers said the salvage operations at the site will continue until Saturday before the process to remove the wreckage begins.

Five lawsuits were filed at the labour court on Thursday over the worst case of building collapse in Bangladesh.

The nine-storey Rana Plaza, built reportedly without following building code, came crushing down at around 8:30am Wednesday morning, burying hundreds under heaps of steel and concrete.

State Minister for Labour and Employment Begum Monnujan Sufian said the owners of the readymade garment units and building owner Mohammad Sohel Rana were accused in the cases. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) has also suspended membership of the five factories operating inside the Rana Plaza.

On Wednesday night, police and RAJUK filed two other cases with the Savar Model Police Station accusing Rana who is on the run and the owners of the factories.

However, law enforcers have failed to capture Rana, the Senior Joint Convenor of Savar Juba League unit even though the Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir ordered his arrest.

Rana escaped unhurt and was taken away by local MP Talukdar Mohammad Towhid Jung Murad from the basement of the building after Rana went there to visit the scene.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Thursday told Parliament that those responsible for all these deaths will be handed down exemplary punishment.

The opposition BNP has blamed the government for the incident taking place. Chairperson Khaleda Zia also visited the site and those being treated in hospital.

সাভারের অধরচন্দ্র বিদ্যালয় মাঠে লাশের অপেক্ষায় স্বজনরা।

The structure was erected over 56 decimals of land. The building housed five garment units, a bank, and commercial shops including electronics, computer, cosmetics and clothes.
The five clothing factories were shut by the industrial police on Tuesday as cracks were spotted in the building. But most of the survivors from the collapse said the factory owners forced them on Wednesday morning to continue with their work.
Locals had begun the rescue work right after the building caved in. Later police, RAB, BGB, Fire Service and Civil Defence and Army joined them and started full-fledged rescue operation, pulling out corpses and people from the concrete pileup.
A temporary control room has been set up near the Savar Bus Stand close to the site of the disaster to provide the distraught families with information.
While rescuers so far pulled alive more than 2,000 people, at least 218 dead bodies have been handed over to the relatives, officials from the temporary control room said at around 11pm.
Meanwhile, a small fire broke out in the debris at around 10:30pm Thursday. Rescue workers said the rags on the ground from the readymade garment factories caught fire while they were trying to cut iron rods in the wreckage.
But the fire-fighters doused the flames in 15 minutes.
Half an hour earlier, local residents took out a procession carrying sticks there demanding arrest of the building owner Mohammad Sohel Rana.
Control room officials said relatives have enlisted names of 372 people who are still missing.
The corpses retrieved from the debris were being taken at the Adhar Chandra High School ground where relatives are trying to identify their dear ones.
Most of the injured have been taken to Enam Medical College and Hospital at Savar. Many have lost their limbs while being rescued. Both legs of a garment worker, Ankhi, had to be cut off to save her.
Fire Service and Civil Defence Director Mohammad Zahidul Islam told reporters they were now searching the lower floors of the buildings. “We are still finding people alive. We will continue our search for 72 hours (from the time of the building collapse).”
He said heavy equipment would be used to remove the debris of the building after that.
Fire Service Director General Ali Ahmed Khan Thursday afternoon told reporters more than 3,000 people had been working in five readymade garment factories when the building grounded. It now has only three stories standing.
But there were also complaining of slow pace of rescue efforts.
General Officer Commanding (GOC) Major General Chowdhury Hasan Suhrawardi of the 9th Infantry Division, which heads the rescue operation, said all measures were being taken to rescue those still stuck inside the building. He added a total of 1,100 trained army personnel were taking part in the salvage efforts.
ISPR Director Shahinur Islam said,” Our prime concern is to pull out people alive from the site. But we will recover them all.”
Responding to the complaint about the ‘slow pace’ of work, he said, “The Army has the technology to remove slabs from the building using cranes. But we are not doing that to save those trapped inside.”
The rescuers were still drilling concrete slabs to rescue more people until the wee hours of Friday. Water and food, though in short supply, were being supplied through the holes.
Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher