SAVAR, Bangladesh: Rescuers tried to free people believed trapped in the concrete rubble of a building housing mainly garment factories that collapsed in Bangladesh a day after workers complained cracks had developed in the structure. The death toll jumped today to 149 after searchers worked through the night.
“Many” people are still trapped, said the rescue operations leader, army Brig. Gen. Mohammed Siddiqul Alam Shikder, this morning. A clearer picture of the rescue operation would be available by afternoon he said.
Searchers cut holes in the jumbled mess of concrete with drills or their bare hands, passing water and flashlights to those pinned inside the building near Bangladesh’s capital of Dhaka.
“I gave them whistles, water, torchlights. I heard them cry. We can’t leave them behind this way,” said fire official Abul Khayer. Rescue operations illuminated by floodlights continued through the night.
The disaster came less than five months after a factory fire killed 112 people and underscored the unsafe conditions in Bangladesh’s massive garment industry.
Workers said they had hesitated to go to into the building on Wednesday morning because it had developed such large cracks a day earlier that it even drew the attention of local news channels.
Abdur Rahim, who worked on the fifth floor, said a factory manager gave assurances that there was no problem, so employees went inside.
“After about an hour or so, the building collapsed suddenly,” Rahim said. He next remembered regaining consciousness outside.
On a visit to the site, Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir told reporters the building had violated construction codes and “the culprits would be punished.”
Local police chief Mohammaed Asaduzzaman said police and the government’s Capital Development Authority have filed separate cases of negligence against the building owner. Asaduzzaman said nearly 100 bodies have been handed to their families as of this morning.
Among the textile businesses in the building were Phantom Apparels Ltd., New Wave Style Ltd., New Wave Bottoms Ltd. and New Wave Brothers Ltd., which make clothing for major brands including The Children’s Place, Dress Barn and Primark.
Jane Singer, a spokeswoman for The Children’s Place, said that “while one of the garment factories located in the building complex has produced apparel for The Children’s Place, none of our product was in production at the time of this accident.”
Dress Barn said that to its knowledge, it had “not purchased any clothing from that facility since 2010. We work with suppliers around the world to manufacture our clothing, and have a supply chain transparency program to protect the rights of workers and their safety.”
Primark, a major British clothing retailer, confirmed that one of the suppliers it uses to produce some of its goods was located on the second floor of the building.
Kevin Gardner, a spokesman at Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the second-largest clothing producer in Bangladesh, said the company is investigating to see if a factory in the building was currently producing for the chain.