Asia

Dhaka building collapse: Hopes for rescue fade

  • 29 April 2013
  • From the section Asia

Rescue work on a collapsed building in Bangladesh has entered a sixth day, but officials say they no longer expect to find any survivors.

Heavy lifting gear is now being used to raise slabs of concrete at the Rana Plaza garment factory, where at least 380 died after Wednesday's collapse.

PM Sheikh Hasina visited the site and some of the victims on Monday.

The owner of the building appeared in court on Monday and was remanded in police custody for 15 days.

Mohammed Sohel Rana - who is one of eight people, including his father, arrested in connection with the disaster - entered court wearing a bullet-proof vest and helmet, and faced angry crowds chanting "hang him, hang him".

He is due to be questioned over allegations of negligence, illegal construction and persuading workers to enter a dangerous building.

At least 3,000 are estimated to have been in the Rana Plaza building when it collapsed. About 2,430 are now known to have survived but hundreds are dead or missing.

Some relatives of those missing complained that the prime minister had not spoken to them during her visit to the site.

"We could have talked to her, and she also could have listened to us," said Monowara Begum, the mother of one missing worker.

Sheikh Hasina also visited some of the survivors in hospital. Bangladesh news site BDNews24 said she had assured them they would receive help from the government.

Bangladesh, it has emerged, refused international help with the disaster.

The UN's search and rescue unit, INSARAG, offered its help soon after the building collapsed but was told Bangladesh would manage the situation with its own well-equipped emergency services, reports the BBC's Mark Doyle.

Rubble fire

On Sunday night, rescuers working deep inside the rubble were told to leave, as cranes were brought in to begin lifting the heavy blocks of fallen concrete.

"We are proceeding cautiously. If there is still a soul alive, we will try to rescue that person,'' army spokesman Shahinul Islam told reporters.

"We are giving the highest priority to saving people, but there is little hope of finding anyone alive."

Fire brigade chief Brig Gen Ali Ahmed Khan said crews had seen bodies lying on the ground inside, but that "no-one was seen alive".

Rescue co-ordinators said that work with heavy-lifting gear would be done carefully to avoid further collapses and to protect bodies trapped under the debris as much as possible.

On Sunday afternoon, the operation was halted when a fire broke out as sparks from a metal-cutter ignited scraps of fabric in the rubble.

Four firefighters were taken to hospital.

The BBC's Anbarasan Ethirajan says rescuers had been trying to free a trapped woman for a number of hours when the fire began, but they later reported she had not survived the fire.

Mohammed Sohel Rana went on the run following the collapse of his eight-storey building, but was arrested on Sunday close to the Indian border.

Bangladeshi TV later showed Mr Rana - a local leader of the youth wing of the prime minister's Awami League party - in handcuffs after being flown back to Dhaka by helicopter.

Anger at the building's collapse has triggered days of violent protests in Dhaka demanding those responsible be punished and for an improvement in factory conditions.

Garment industry workers across the country were given the weekend off, in the hope that the anger would fade.

But on Monday, thousands of workers walked out of factories in the Ashulia and Gazipur industrial districts shortly after they opened, and staged a protest march, reportedly setting fire to an ambulance.

Bangladesh has one of the largest garment industries in the world, providing cheap clothing for major Western retailers that benefit from its widespread low-cost labour.

But the industry has been widely criticised for its low pay and limited rights given to workers and for the often dangerous working conditions in garment factories.

More on this story