SAVAR, Bangladesh – Rescuers tried to free people believed trapped in the concrete rubble of a building housing mainly garment factories that collapsed in Bangladesh a day after workers complained cracks had developed in the structure. The death toll jumped today to 149 after searchers worked through the night.
“Many” people are still trapped, said the rescue operations leader, army Brig. Gen. Mohammed Siddiqul Alam Shikder.
Searchers cut holes in the jumbled mess of concrete with drills or their bare hands, passing water and flashlights to those pinned inside the building near Bangladesh’s capital of Dhaka.
“I gave them whistles, water, torchlights. I heard them cry. We can’t leave them behind this way,” fire official Abul Khayer said. Rescue operations illuminated by floodlights continued through the night.
The disaster came less than five months after a factory fire killed 112 people and underscored the unsafe conditions in Bangladesh’s massive garment industry.
Workers said they had hesitated to enter the building on Wednesday morning because it had developed such large cracks a day earlier that it even drew the attention of local news channels.
Abdur Rahim, who worked on the fifth floor, said a factory manager gave assurances that there was no problem, so employees went inside.
“After about an hour or so, the building collapsed suddenly,” Rahim said.
He next remembered regaining consciousness outside.
On a visit to the site, Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir told reporters the building had violated construction codes and “the culprits would be punished.”
Abdul Halim, an official with the engineering department in the Dhaka suburb of Savar, said the owner was originally allowed to construct a five-story building but he added another three stories illegally.
Local police chief Mohammaed Asaduzzaman said police and the government’s Capital Development Authority have filed separate cases of negligence against the building owner.
Habibur Rahman, police superintendent of Dhaka district, identified the owner as Mohammed Sohel Rana, a local leader of ruling Awami League’s youth front.
Among the textile businesses in the building were Phantom Apparels Ltd., New Wave Style Ltd., New Wave Bottoms Ltd. and New Wave Brothers Ltd.
Charles Kernaghan, executive director of the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, which has an office in nearby Dhaka, said his staff is investigating the situation.
He’s hoping his team, working with local workers’ groups, will be able to find out which brands were having their products made at the time of the collapse.
“You can’t trust many buildings in Bangladesh,” Kernaghan said. “It’s so corrupt that you can buy off anybody and there won’t be any retribution.”