Friday, March 7, 2014
Julhas Alam and Farid Hossain / The Associated Press
Bangladeshi rescuers work Friday at the site of a building that collapsed Wednesday in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Photos by The Associated Press
A Bangladeshi woman weeps as she holds a picture of herself and her missing husband while she waits near the site of the building collapse.
SAVAR, Bangladesh — Police in Bangladesh took five people into custody in connection with the collapse of a shoddily-constructed building this week, as rescue workers pulled 19 survivors out of the rubble on Saturday and vowed to continue as long as necessary to find others despite fading hopes.
At least 340 people are known to have died, crushed by massive blocks of concrete and mortar falling on them when the 8-story structure came down on Wednesday morning -- a time many of the garment factories in the building were packed with workers. It was the worst tragedy to hit Bangladesh's massive garment industry, and focused attention on the poor working conditions of the employees who toil for $38 a month to produce clothing for top international brands.
Among those taken into custody is the wife of the building owner, who is on the run, in an attempt to force him to surrender. Violent public protests continued sporadically in Dhaka and spread to the southeastern city of Chittagong where several vehicles were set on fire.
"There are many (survivors) still there," Subrata Sarker, a fire official, told The Associated Press, taking a break after emerging from the debris. Around him, soldiers, police and medical workers in lab coats worked in frenzied activity.
Rescuers passed bottles of water and small cylinders of oxygen up a ladder leaning against the side of the building to be given to possible survivors inside.
Mohammad Sarwar Hossain, another rescue worker said he saw 15 people still alive. "They can be rescued by today. We will be able to bring them out after we cut seven more iron rods."
Nearby, Abul Basar wept as he awaited news of his wife, who worked in one of the garment factories.
"My son says that his mother will come back some day, she must return, " he cried.
Rescue teams went in from seven entry points gouged into the rubble. Every once in a while a badly decomposed body would be brought out, covered in cloth and plastic, to a spot where ambulances were parked. Workers furiously sprayed air-fresheners on the bodies to cover the stench, leaving the air thick with the smell of death and cheap perfume.
The death toll is expected to rise as big portion of the crumbled building was still untouched and heavy equipment would be needed to remove the debris to recover the bodies.
The bodies were kept at a makeshift morgue at the nearby Adharchandra High School before being handed over to families. Many people milled around at the school, waving photos of their missing loved ones.
Junior local government minister Jahangir Kabir Nanak put the death toll at 340. Military spokesman Shahinul Islam said 2,419 survivors were accounted for, including 19 who were pulled out Saturday.
"We will continue our operation for more survivors as long as it is required. We are not thinking of wrapping up of our effort any time soon," he said.
Police in riot gear formed a cordon around the site to keep away hundreds of protesters who have been venting their anger at the situation since Wednesday.
Authorities shut down garment factories in Dhaka for fear of violence, which has persisted over demands that police arrest the owners of the factories and the building.
Junior Home Minister Shamsul Haque Tuku said police had arrested Bazlus Samad, managing director of New Wave Apparels Ltd., and Mahmudur Rahman Tapash, the company chairman.
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Bangladeshi rescue workers and media fall on top of each other in a stampede aftersomeone shouted that a section of building might collapse in Savar, Bangladesh, on Friday.