SAVAR, Bangladesh – A Bangladesh court on Monday gave police 15 days to interrogate the owner of a building that collapsed last week, killing at least 382 people, as rescuers used heavy machinery to cut through the destroyed structure after giving up hopes of finding any more survivors.
Mohammed Sohel Rana, who was arrested Sunday as he tried to flee to India, will be held for questioning on charges of negligence, illegal construction and forcing workers to work. His father, Abdul Khaleque, was also arrested on suspicion of aiding Rana to force people to work in a dangerous building.
The illegally constructed, eight-story Rana Plaza collapsed in a heap Wednesday morning as thousands of people worked inside in five garment factories. About 2,500 survivors have been accounted for.
Rana was brought to the Dhaka Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court in a bullet-proof vest, and led away to an unknown detention place after the magistrate granted a police request to hold him longer before filing formal charges. The crimes he is accused of carry a maximum punishment of seven years. More charges could be added later.
In renewed anger against conditions in garment factories – a mainstay of Bangladesh’s economy – hundreds of workers poured into the streets in the Dhaka suburb of Ashulia and set fire to an ambulance Monday, the Independent TV network reported. They also tried to set fire to a factory, it said. Authorities shut down all garment factories in the Ashulia and Gazipur industrial suburbs, including one that had reportedly developed cracks and was evacuated earlier.
Volunteers, army personnel and firefighters have worked around the clock since Wednesday, mostly using their hands and light equipment to pull out survivors. Around midnight Sunday, authorities deployed hydraulic cranes and heavy cutting machines to break up the massive slabs of concrete into manageable pieces that could be lifted away.
“We are proceeding cautiously. If there is still a soul alive, we will try to rescue that person,” army spokesman Shahinul Islam said.
However, Brig. Gen. Ali Ahmed Khan, chief of the fire brigade at the scene, said there was little hope of finding anyone alive. “Our men went inside and saw some dead bodies in the ground floor. But no one was seen alive,” he said.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited the site and a nearby hospital to meet with survivors on Monday, the first time since the disaster.