Mismatch over the missing

The Savar tragedy rolls onto a week but there is no definitive statistics of how many are missing, raising doubts over how many corpses are buried under the pile of rubble at the Rana Plaza collapse site.

Shahidul Islam and Faijul Siddikibdnews24.com
Published : 30 April 2013, 10:27 AM
Updated : 30 April 2013, 11:41 AM

Thousands were still crowding the site holding pictures of dear ones for identification.

Number of those remaining missing could have been easily calculated had a list of employees at the five factories inside Rana Plaza been obtained.

However, the Army said they had sought for the list from the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), but did not get it.

The nine-storey commercial building had five readymade garment factories inside it. BGMEA says there were over 3,000 people working there.

The factories were running when the building crumbled in a heap on Apr 24. Allegations were raised that the employees were forced into work even though huge cracks appreared on the wall the previous day.

Rescuers use trained dogs on Tuesday to find dead bodies from the heaps of debris of a high-rise building that collapses in Savar on Apr 24.

After the collapse, Fire Service and Civil Defence officials said there were about 3,500 workers inside when the building came down.
On the other hand, workers put the number at more than 4,500.
At a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Maj Gen Chowdhury Hassan Suhrawardy, Bangladesh Army’s 9th Infantry Division GOC in charge of rescue operations, said they heard the number was 3,200.
Many had not joined work since it was a shutdown on that day, he said.
When asked how many were still missing, he avoided a direct answer and said, “You can estimate how many.”
According to him, 2,437 were rescued and 385 bodies were pulled out until Tuesday afternoon. The ratio of survivors and dead is 8:1.
If his information is to be taken, then the number of those unaccounted for is around 400.
However, police at Adhar Chandra School ground had put the figure of missing at around 1,300. The number was hung up at the notice board there.
“We do not agree with the list,” Maj Gen Suhrawardy said.
Shariful Islam worked at a garment factory on the seventh floor of the building over the past three years. He told bdnews24.com that some 900 workers were working on that floor on the fateful day.
Sabuj Mia who was working on the third floor said that some 800 workers were working there that day.
A factory official, Nazmur Rashid Faruk, who was rescued alive from the concrete rubbles of the fourth floor three days after the disaster, said some 1,000 workers were working on that floor when the huge structure caved in.
Mehadi Hasan, who was injured in the collapse and rescued from the sixth floor, said that over 1,000 workers used to work on that floor and most of them were at work during the dreadful incident.
He said garment machinery and accessories were being set up on the ninth floor that morning and that he saw over 50 workers working on the floor.
Other survivors said some 700 workers were working on the fifth floor. Another worker, Monnaf Khan, said that 800 workers used to work on the eighth floor.
“Since the factory manager dilly-dallies if any worker doesn’t work in the last leg of the month, all of the workers came to their respective factories with the hope of getting paid in time though a countrywide shutdown was called on that day,” he explained.
Since the hope for pulling up the trapped people alive from the concrete rubbles faded seven days on, their relatives are now staying at local Adhar Chandra School ground and giving the list of their missing near ones hoping to find their bodies to do the last rites.
Sub-Inspector Firoz Alam told bdnews24.com at the school ground on Monday that the number of missing people could come down later if anyone was traced out later and since the names of the missing people was enlisted more than once in some cases.
The civilians who took part in the rescue operation said that decomposed corpses remained sandwiched under concrete slabs in the inaccessible corners of the bottom floors.
Yunus Khan of Savar’s Sabujbagh who was looking for his nephew Arifur Rahman told bdnews24.com: “I entered the collapsed building and saw many bodies in its north-eastern corner. But the heavy machines are being used in the front and back side of the collapsed structure instead of using those there.”
Equipment like cranes were not pressed in service on the first day of the disaster in a bid to rescue the trapped people alive. The second phase of the salvage operation involving heavy machinery was launched on the fifth day.
Nine more bodies were retrieved from the debris on Tuesday.
The recovered corpses are kept on the Adhar Chandra High School ground, which is next to Enam Medical College and Hospital.
Those who could not be identified are being taken to the morgues in Dhaka Medical College Hospital and Mitford Hospital.
Maj Gen Suhrawardy said 333 dead bodies have been handed over to families. There are 52 unidentified bodies of the victim in the morgue, he added.
Almost all who were still waiting to find their loved ones on Tuesday, the seventh day of the collapse, in front of Rana Plaza and Adhar Chandra High School said they had been running to see if the ones they are seeking were among the dead or the injured being treated at hospitals.
But those who were anxiously waiting for their loved ones believe they were still trapped under the debris.
There are many who have given ip hopes of ever seeing their loved ones again. Now all they want is to at least find their dead bodies and return home.
They staged a protest near Savar Bus Stand on Monday. They stopped the trucks that were taking the debris to dump into the river to check if there were bodies inside.
Maj Gen Suhrawardy acknowledged in the press brief that many had their suspicions that “we may be dumping bodies along with the debris. Some have obstructed the trucks on debris”.
“Can this be expected from the rescuers who risked their own lives to save so many victims?” he said with a tinge of anger in his tone.
When asked about the number of people who are still missing, he said it would have helped to estimate the number for the missing if they had a list of how many people who used to work in the building.
“But we did not receive any list. The BGMEA President was asked to provide the list urgently. He said he is ‘working to provide the list’.”
No computers that may have data on the employees were recovered, he said.
All the owners of the garment factory have been arrested. When asked if the detained owners were asked about the number of the employees, Maj Gen Suhrawardy said, “They are not in our custody.”
He requested the members of the press to not assume a number for those who are dead or missing until authorities receive a list of workers for the five factories.
Lists for the injured and the dead specific to districts will be released soon, he added.
The Army official said foreigners were happy with the rescue effort on Sunday.
About government’s refusal to offers by the foreigners to aid the rescue operation, he said, “It would have taken more than 72 hours for the tools to reach here, considering the time of their proposal.”