NEW DELHI – As the death toll rose to at least 345, more than two dozen more survivors were rescued Saturday from the rubble of a nine-story factory building that collapsed Wednesday morning outside the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka.
Authorities detained five people, including two factory owners, on capital charges in response to the tragedy, which has led to widespread protests.
Rain hampered rescue efforts Saturday, but soldiers and volunteers, many moving debris by hand, managed to remove 29 survivors from the Rana Plaza building, local news reports said.
Government officials initially said they would halt rescue efforts Friday night, more than 72 hours after the collapse. But with survivors still being pulled out and relatives threatening to riot, the deadline was extended.
Police ordered an evacuation Tuesday after cracks appeared in the building, which housed five garment factories, a shopping complex and a bank branch. But employees were told it wasn’t serious and were ordered back to work, local news reports said.
The structure was approved for five stories, but the politically connected owner, Sohel Rana, reportedly added three floors illegally and was building another one.
Factory owners Bazlus Samad and Mahmudur Rahman Tapash were detained Saturday and face charges of “death due to negligence,” police said.
Also detained were local government engineers Imtemam Hossain and Alam Miah, police said, for giving the building the all-clear Tuesday night, hours before the collapse.
The government appeared eager to blunt criticism that it had failed to move against building owner Rana, a youth wing leader in the ruling Awami League party who reportedly went into hiding shortly after being rescued from the building’s rubble. Junior Home Minister Shamsul Haque Tuku told reporters that police had detained Rana’s wife Saturday for questioning.
Samad’s company, New Wave Apparels, makes clothing for several major North American and European retailers.
Garment workers demonstrated for a third day Saturday, vandalizing three factories, blocking traffic and smashing more than 150 cars in Dhaka, Gazipur and Narayanganj. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets, with at least 50 people reported injured in the clashes.
Rescue workers managed to drill a hole from the side of the building into the deepest part of the wreckage, the former second and third floors of the pancaked building. Two volunteers, Kamrul Islam, 28, and Atan, 30, both rickshaw pullers, crept into the narrow gap and pulled out as many as 23 people overnight, Dhaka’s Daily Star newspaper reported.
“Both of them are very lean,” the paper said. “They could slip in through narrow holes easily.”