April 25, 2013

Death toll in Bangladesh building collapse reaches 194

Julhas Alam / The Associated Press

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Rescuers lower down a survivor from the debris of the building that collapsed in Savar, Bangladesh, on Wednesday.

AP

"We are ready with about 1,000 soldiers and rescue workers from other departments. But a huge crowd is obstructing our effort," he said.

The garment manufacturers' group said the factories in the building employed 3,122 workers but it was not clear how many were in the building when it collapsed.

Searchers worked through the night to probe the jumbled mass of concrete with drills or their bare hands, passing water and flashlights to people pinned inside.

"I gave them whistles, water, torchlights. I heard them cry," said fire official Abul Khayer late Wednesday, as he prepared to work late into the night.

Abdur Rahim, an employee who worked on the fifth floor, said a factory manager gave assurances that the cracks in the building were no cause for concern, so employees went inside.

"After about an hour or so, the building collapsed suddenly," Rahim said. The next thing he remembered was regaining consciousness outside.

On a visit to the site, Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir told reporters the building had violated construction codes and that "the culprits would be punished."

Abdul Halim, an official with the engineering department in Savar, said the owner was originally allowed to construct a five-story building but he added another three stories illegally.

Local police chief Mohammed Asaduzzaman said police and the government's Capital Development Authority have filed separate cases of negligence against the building owner.

Habibur Rahman, police superintendent of the Dhaka district, identified the owner as Mohammed Sohel Rana, a local leader of ruling Awami League's youth front. Rahman said police were also looking for the owners of the garment factories.

Among the garment makers in the building were Phantom Apparels, Phantom Tac, Ether Tex, New Wave Style and New Wave Bottoms. Altogether, they produced several million shirts, pants and other garments a year. The New Wave companies, according to their website, make clothing for major brands including North American retailers The Children's Place and Dress Barn, Britain's Primark, Spain's Mango and Italy's Benetton. Ether Tex said Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer, was one of its customers.

Many of the retailers distanced themselves from the disaster, saying they were not involved with the factories at the time of the collapse or had not recently ordered garments from them. Only Primark acknowledged it was using a factory in Rana Plaza.

Benetton said in an email to The Associated Press that people involved in the collapse were not Benetton suppliers. Wal-Mart said it was investigating and Mango said it had only discussed production of a test sample of clothing with one of the factories.

The Savar suburb is home to dozens of garment factories. The collapse was even deadlier than the November factory fire that drew international attention to working conditions in Bangladesh's $20 billion-a-year textile industry. The country has about 4,000 garment factories and exports clothes to leading Western retailers, and the industry wields vast power in the South Asian nation.

The Tazreen factory that caught fire lacked emergency exits, and its owner said only three floors of the eight-story building were legally built. Surviving employees said gates had been locked and managers had told them to go back to work after the fire alarm went off.

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