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Apr 25, 2013 at 09:36pm IST

Bangladesh building collapse: Death toll rises to 243

Savar: With nearly 250 people killed in one of the worst building collapses in Bangladesh, thousands of distraught people today watched rescuers search for their loved ones trapped under the debris of the eight-story complex that had come crashing down within seconds. A total of 101 bodies were pulled out of the debris of the collapsed building on Thursday. During Wednesday's rescue operation 142 bodies had been retrieved.

The rise in death toll to 243 was confirmed by Wali Ashraf han, an inspector of Detective Branch of police, who has been acting as the in-charge of corpse management control room. "So far 2,013 people were rescued alive from under the debris," Major General Abul Hassan Sarwardy, overseeing the rescue campaign, told reporters on the outskirts of Dhaka, where the tragedy took place on Thursday morning.

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Sarwardy, who is the general officer commanding of Army's Savar-based 9th division, said that the highly trained military and fire brigade rescuers would continue to search for those who were still trapped under tonnes of debris. "They are cautiously penetrating inside the wreck using concrete and rod cutters and retrieving the bodies manually.. use of heavy equipment could collapse the building further causing more casualties," he said.

Bangladesh building collapse: Death toll rises to 243

Locals said around 3,500 workers, mostly women, of the garment factories were working when the tragedy struck.

Rana Plaza, the eight-storey commercial building that collapsed on Thursday, housed five garment units supplying Western clothes retailers, a branch of a private bank and about 300 shops. Locals said around 3,500 workers, mostly women, of the garment factories were working when the tragedy struck. Twenty four people were rescued alive today from a room inside the building in an operation broadcast live on national television. The rescue was greeted with loud cheers by thousands of people watching the rescuers heroically saving the lives of the people trapped in the rubble.

Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Thursday vowed to bring to justice the garment factory owners who fled the structure when it caved in. "Those who're involved, especially the owner who forced the workers to work there, will be punished...wherever he is, he will be found and brought to justice," Hasina told lawmakers. Meanwhile, national flag flew at half-mast as Bangladesh declared a day of mourning.

The High Court ordered the owner of Rana Plaza and the managing directors and chairmen of garment factories housed in the building to appear before it personally on April 30. Director of the Industrial Police Mostafizur Rahman has blamed the garment factory owners for the collapse, as they were operating their units ignoring the cracks spotted in the building on Tuesday. "The Industrial Police had asked the owners of the factories to suspend operations after cracks were noticed in Rana Plaza. We had asked them to operate the factories only after a structural inspection by engineers," Rahman said.

The owners of the Rana Plaza in Savar and the garment factories went into hiding fearing arrest, as the regulatory authorities and police filed separate cases accusing them of illegally constructing the structure and exposing the workers to the fatal accident. Industrial police said two of their detectives were missing and feared dead as they went inside the structure to investigate into its risk exposure at the time of collapse.

Rescuers feared that about 1500 more people were trapped under the debris. The Army Commander, overseeing the rescue operation, said they were trying everything possible to rescue all the people trapped by Friday.

Navy and Air Force rescuers also joined the operations. Efforts were underway to provide oxygen under the debris so that the trapped people could breathe. About 3.6 million people work in Bangladesh's garment industry, making it the world's second-largest apparel exporter with Europe being its main destination.

Bangladesh's booming garment industry has been plagued by fires and other accidents for years. In November last year, 112 workers were killed in a blaze at the Tazreen factory in a nearby industrial suburb. Following the Tazreen fire, giant US retailer Walmart Stores Inc said it would take steps to alleviate safety concerns, while Gap Inc announced a four-step fire-safety

programme.

Building collapses are common in Bangladesh as builders openly flout rules and the official construction code. The country witnessed the last major building collapse in 2005 when over 70 people were killed after a multi-storey garment factory collapsed in the same area.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in a statement called for patience, saying rescue operations in a hurry could invite further accidents. Scores of people crowded the scene of the tragedy with photographs of their missing family members. Witnesses said water bottles and dry food were being dropped through the gaps in the debris.

Distraught relatives watched the bodies of the victims being kept in an open ground of a local high school to be handed over to the bereaved families. Officials said over 100 bodies had already been received by the families of the victims. Some workers complained that the building had developed cracks Tuesday evening, but were not able to evacuate as they were forced back by their managers, media reports said.

The entire staff of the BRAC Bank, housed inside the complex, escaped the tragedy as the authorities had ordered their evacuation just after the cracks were reported. "The fact is we don't know yet how many people were killed actually...but I can tell you the building was not built in compliance with the (safety) rules and regulations," Home Minister Mahiuddin Khan Alamgir had said on Wednesday.

Army said 3,000 of their officers and soldiers reached the scene in minutes after the collapse. The Prime Minister ordered mobilisation of all efforts to rescue the trapped people. US Ambassador in Dhaka Dan Mozena on Thursday said the deadly Savar building collapse would have an impact on the decision of the ongoing GSP (Generalised System of Preferences) hearing. "It certainly makes the environment of the workplace safety questionable. I'm sure it'll have that impact," the US envoy said responding to a question about whether the Savar incident will affect the continuation of GSP facility for Bangladesh.

Mozena said the loss of lives in large numbers would raise new questions on safety measures in workplaces.

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