May 8, 2013

Bangladesh garment disaster death toll crosses 800

Julhas Alam / The Associated Press

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Dozens of bodies recovered Wednesday from a collapsed garment factory building were so decomposed they were being sent to a lab for DNA identification, police said, as the death toll from Bangladesh's worst industrial disaster topped 800.

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A rescue worker walks in the rain in the rubble of the garment factory that collapsed in Savar, Bangladesh.

AP

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Garment workers employed at Rana Plaza, the garment factory building that collapsed, queue up to receive wages from the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association in Savar, Bangladesh.

AP

Following protests, authorities also began disbursing salaries and other benefits to survivors of the collapse.

Police said 803 bodies had been recovered from the wreckage of the eight-story Rana Plaza building by late afternoon and more were expected as salvage work continued two weeks after the April 24 collapse.

There is no clear indication of how many bodies still remain trapped in the debris because the exact number of people inside the building at the time of the collapse is unknown. More than 2,500 people were rescued alive.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association earlier said 3,122 workers were employed at the five factories housed in the building, but it was not clear how many were there during the packed morning shift when it collapsed.

Maj. Gen. Chowdhury Hasan Suhrawardy, a top military official in the area, said the operation to recover bodies from the tangle of wreckage could continue for two to three more days before they would ask the local administration to take care of the site.

Suhrawardy said they had to send 36 decomposing bodies to Dhaka Medical College Hospital to collect DNA samples because they were beyond identification. Authorities expected to send more bodies for testing in the coming days, with temperatures in the high 80s Fahrenheit (low 30s Celsius) and rain pouring down.

The disaster is the worst ever in the garment sector, far surpassing fires last year that killed about 260 people in Pakistan and 112 in Bangladesh, as well as the 1911 garment disaster in New York's Triangle Shirtwaist factory that killed 146 workers.

After hundreds of garment workers protested for compensation Tuesday, authorities started disbursing salaries and other benefits.

Suhrawardy said some 400 workers gathered Tuesday night to receive dues and benefits.

Rafiqul Islam, a BGMEA official, said the disbursement would continue in phases.

Islam said they planned to meet with workers' representatives later Wednesday to discuss how to reach out to victims for proper disbursement of compensation and other financial aid.

The workers, many of whom made little more than the national minimum wage of about $38 per month, are demanding at least four months' salary. They had set Tuesday as a deadline for the payment of wages and other benefits.

Local government administrator Yousuf Harun has said no salary remained unpaid except for the month of April and there was an agreement for the workers to receive an additional three months of pay.

The BGMEA said Monday that it was preparing a complete list of workers employed in the Rana Plaza factories and the process would take a few more days.

Bangladesh earns nearly $20 billion a year from exports of garment products, mainly to the United States and Europe.

Officials say the building's owner illegally added three floors and allowed the garment factories to install heavy machines and generators, even though the structure was not designed to support such equipment.

The owner and eight other people including the owners of the garment factories have been detained.

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