Protests erupt in Bangladesh as the death toll from the collapse of a building supplying western retailers rises above 230. Rescuers fear many more bodies could still be trapped.
In one of the worst accidents to take place in Bangladesh’s garments sector in recent months, the Rana Plaza building came crashing down on Wednesday morning after cracks began to appear in the brickwork.
It has emerged that the building had been the site of numerous factories producing clothes for companies such as Primark and Matalan.
Industrial police had instructed the building and factory owners to suspend operations due to the cracks, with managers of a local bank that also had an office in the building evacuating their workers from the site.
However, it is believed that more than 3,000 workers were in the factory at the time of the collapse, after owners ignored the instructions and ordered workers to return to work. Some workers claimed they were told their pay would be docked if they did not return to work.
As the death toll continued to rise, workers took to the offices of the country’s main body representing garments factory owners to complain about the disaster, the latest to hit the beleagured industry in recent months.
More than 1,000 textile workers besieged offices of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) on Thursday, pelting it with stones and clashing with riot police, TV channels showed. The workers demanded all garment factories be shut and the owners harshly punished for accidents.
Mohammad Sohel Rana, the owner of the building, is believed to have gone into hiding. He is being hunted by police, with the country’s supreme court ordering him to appear.
Survivors described how they heard a deafening crack on Wednesday morning. Desperate workers attempted to flee as the building came crashing down.
“I was at work on the third floor, and then suddenly I heard a deafening sound, but couldn’t understand what was happening,” said factory worker Zohra Begum. “I ran and was hit by something on my head.”
The building collapsed within a matter of seconds, witnesses said. Local residents who joined in the rescue effort said that at one stage, the screams of a woman pinned between concrete slabs could be heard, as distraught relatives waiting for news of their loved ones.
By this morning, some 229 bodies had been recovered from the wreckage, an industrial police official told Channel 4 News. “Around 1,500 have been treated for injuries, but there could be many more trapped beneath the rubble. It’s a heavily built area and it has caused a lot of damage. A full investigation is needed so we know why such tragic events happened,” he said.
“An unspecified number of victims are still trapped,” said Mizanur Rahman, a rescue worker with the fire brigade. “We can’t be certain of getting them all out alive. We are losing a bit of hope.”
BGMEA President Mohammad Atiqul Islam said there were 3,122 workers in the factories on Wednesday.
He said there had been indications from local officials that cracks had been found in the building the day before. “We asked the garment owners to keep it closed,” he said.
Rana Plaza’s owner had told proprietors of the building’s five garment factories that the cracks were not dangerous, he added. “After getting the green signal from the plaza owner all the garment factories opened,” he said.
However, police official Mohammad Asaduzzaman said factory owners appeared to have ignored a warning not to allow their workers into the building after a crack was detected on Tuesday.
In November, more than 100 people were killed in a factory fire in the Ashulia industrial belt of the capital.