Bangladesh garment industry

Hopes fading for survivors at Bangladesh disaster site

Owner of building arrested as death toll rises to over 375

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 April, 2013, 5:16pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 May, 2013, 10:07am

The owner of a factory building that collapsed in Bangladesh killing hundreds of garment workers was arrested on Sunday trying to flee to India, police said, as fears grew that the death toll could rise sharply with as many as 900 still missing.

Mohammed Sohel Rana, a leader of the ruling Awami League’s youth front, was arrested by the elite Rapid Action Battalion in the Bangladesh border town of Benapole, Dhaka District Police Chief Habibur Rahman.

Earlier, rescue teams at the site of a collapsed factory block in Bangladesh - where more than 375 people - have died called in heavy-lifting equipment on Sunday as hopes of finding more survivors faded.

National fire chief Ahmed Ali said that chances for life under the wreckage were now slim shortly before another two people were hauled out alive about 100 hours after the eight-storey building collapsed outside Dhaka.

“We have moved heavy equipment to the site but are still waiting for the clearance from the rescue workers inside the wreckage that no one is trapped alive,” Ali said at the scene.

Rescuers had been only using hand tools such as cutters and drills, fearing the use of cranes would jeopardise the chances of survival of those still trapped alive.

Hundreds of army and fire personnel, as well as workers from the factory who volunteered to help, were still pouring over the disaster site, gulping air freshener to conceal the overpowering stench of decomposing bodies.

We shall use cranes very carefully so that it does not harm the chances of survival of people still alive inside
National fire chief Ahmed Ali

“Our hope is that we may still find some people alive under the debris,” Ali said. “We shall use cranes very carefully so that it does not harm the chances of survival of people still alive inside.”

Dozens of bodies can be seen inside the concrete mountain, meaning the death toll for the country’s worst industrial accident will certainly rise further.

The tragedy has once again focused attention on the poor safety conditions in the Bangladeshi garment industry, which is the world’s second biggest after China, supplying many big Western clothing brands.

Britain’s Primark and Spain’s Mango have acknowledged their products were made in the block, while other brands including Walmart are investigating.

The accident has prompted new accusations from activists that Western firms place profit before safety by sourcing their products from a country where textile workers often earn less than US$40 a month.

As outrage over the country’s worst industrial disaster spread at home and abroad, police made a string of arrests on Saturday after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina vowed to hunt down those responsible.

Proprietors Bazlus Samad and Mahmudur Rahman Tapash were detained soon after midnight while Aminul Islam, owner of two factories based in the doomed building, was arrested Saturday night, police told AFP.

They faced preliminary charges of causing death by negligence, they said.

Five factories were based in the complex at Savar, just outside Dhaka.

The government has also launched a massive search for owners of two other factories and the overall proprietor of the complex, reportedly a ruling party official, after a minister alleged he built the compound without permits.

Senior investigating officer Kaiser Matubbor said two municipal engineers who gave the building the all-clear after an inspection on Tuesday were also arrested and could face charges of death due to negligence.

Bangladesh police said Sunday they were looking for a Spanish businessman and part-owner of a factory in the factory's garment block .

David Mayor is the managing director of the Phantom-Tac apparel factory, a joint Spanish-Bangladeshi venture that was housed in the factory block.

Police said on Sunday they had filed preliminary charges of "causing  death due to negligence" against him and the owners of another four manufacturing firms inside the illegally built block.

Survivors said the complex developed cracks on Tuesday, but bosses ordered staff to return to the production lines.

Deputy administrator of Dhaka district, Zillur Rahman Chowdhury, said the “death toll is now 367”, with more than 2,400 people rescued alive since Wednesday.

Hundreds of relatives of missing workers gathered at the site for the fifth day running to watch as bodies were pulled from the debris and laid on a school playground for identification.

As the cranes prepared to get to work, hope was turning to anger amid criticism of the slow pace of efforts, with some experts decrying a lack of coordination in the operation.

Expert Mehedi Ahmed Ansari, a professor of civil engineering at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) also said that Bangladesh could have asked for foreign help.

“The methodology is fine, but they lacked proper coordination. Also since we don’t have any experience in this kind of rescue operation, we could have sought help from neighbouring nations like Thailand,” he said.

With many of Bangladesh’s 4,500 factories shut due to protests, bosses declared on Saturday and Sunday a holiday.

Several thousand garment workers protested on Friday and Saturday near the disaster site but they were dispersed by police firing rubber bullets and tear gas.

Agence France-Presse and Reuters