Thursday, April 25, 2024

123 killed as building collapses at Savar

National mourning today
At least 123 people, mostly female apparel workers, were killed and more than a thousand injured as a eight-storey building housing five apparel units and a shopping mall collapsed on a
bordering building at Savar on Wednesday morning.
With several hundred more believed to have been trapped inside, rescuers fear that the death toll could be rising significantly.
‘One hundred and twenty-three bodies have so far been recovered from the debris,’ the superintendent of police in Dhaka, Habibur Rahman, told New Age about midnight. The death toll could be rising.
Rescue operation was going on. Rescuers said that oxygen, oral rehydration salt water and dry foods were being supplied for the people trapped inside.
The local administration said that 75 bodies had already been handed over to families.
The superintendent of police said that Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha and the police had filed two cases against the building owners.
The police filed the case against Sohel Rana, owner of Rana Plaza, and the apparel factory owners, the police said.
Rajuk filed the case against the building own for
breach in the building code.
The labour ministry set up a five-member committee to investigate the building collapse.
The government has announced national mourning for today in memory of the deceased.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters’ Association vice-president SM Mannan, who visited the spot, told New Age that 3,400 workers were working in the building.
Several hundred fire fighters, troops, Border Guard Bangladesh soldiers, Rapid Action Battalion, police and Ansar personnel and local people joined the operation to rescue the people trapped inside Rana Plaza, 30 kilometres off the capital.
The rescuers said that it would take at least three to four days to wind up the rescue. Local people immediately carried out the preliminary rescue operation.
‘We have so far recovered 80 bodies… many more, dead or alive, are still trapped inside,’ the Fire Service and Civil Defence director general, Ali Ahmed Khan, told reporters at the place late afternoon.
The general officer commanding of the ninth infantry division, Major General Hasan Sarwardy, who is coordinating the rescue operation, said that they had so far confirmed the death of more than 70 people.
He said that the bodies had been kept in the Adharchandra High School ground at Savar and the district administration was handing over the bodies to their families.
Witnesses and workers said that the building had collapsed suddenly with a big thud about 9:00am.
Most of the building fell on a bordering three-storey building, to the south of Rana Plaza. The three-storey building also collapsed, leaving several people dead.
Another portion of the nine-story building fell on the bordering RS Tower, to the north of Rana Plaza, in which the building was damaged. But there were no casualty in the RS Tower as there were no people working there.
‘The entire area was trembling as if an earthquake had hit the area when the building collapsed,’ Rafiqul Mia, who runs a tea-stall nearby, said. ‘I have never heard such a big thud.’
Rafiqul said that the entire building collapsed in about two minutes, leaving no space for people inside to go out.
Local people said that several cracks had developed in the building on Tuesday and the apparel factory owners had asked the workers to leave the factories on Tuesday afternoon as well, asking them to come back to the factory the next morning.
The building housed five apparel factories — Ether Tex Limited, New Wave Bottoms Limited, New Wave Style Limited, Phantom Apparels Limited, and Phantom Tac Limited — employing about 5,000 workers in all.
The Ether Tex owner, Anisur Rahman, said that about 70 per cent of the workers employed in all the five factories had been present in the building before the building collapsed.
Air hung heavy on the whole of Savar with the wailing of the people who have lost members of their families or have their relatives still trapped inside the rubble.
There were also a shopping mall and a branch office of BRAC Bank on the ground floor of the building but they remained closed amid the 36-hour general strike the BNP-led opposition starting enforced on Tuesday morning.
Local people complained that the owner kept the building open even after engineers had ordered the building to be evacuated on Tuesday. Cracks developed in the building about 9:00am on Tuesday and local engineers advised the evacuation soon after the incident.
The apparel factory owners ignored the advice and kept the units open amid the general strike. A number of workers alleged that they had been forced to join work in the building although there were fears that the building might collapse any time.
Apparel workers alleged that the foundation of the building was so weak that the building used to tremble even when a generator ran.
They said that they were hesitant about resuming work in the morning after they had left the building on Tuesday because of the cracks.
The injured were taken to the nearest Enam Medical College Hospital and physicians there found it difficult to treat the injured for shortage of logistics. Many were subsequently taken to Dhaka for better treatment.
There was shortage of blood in hospitals but as the news spread, students of Jahangirnagar University lined up donating blood. The Shahbagh protesters also collected more than 3,000 bags of blood for the treatment of the injured people.
Shahina Akhter, who was working on the fifth floor of the building but survived the accident, alleged that authorities had forced them to join work on Wednesday. ‘We came to know on Tuesday that some cracks had developed in the building and the authorities asked us to leave for the day. But we were asked to join work this morning,’ she said.
Another worker, Shafiqul Islam, said that the building owner had called in some engineers to inspect the building who said that ‘the cracks are not so serious.’
After a while, the owners asked the workers to join work ‘although many of us were hesitant,’ he said.
Lucky and Sabina, two women workers who were still trapped inside the building, were crying out for help. They said that they could not inform people outside of their condition as authorities did not allow them to keep mobiles at work.
Shahabuddin, the floor in-charge of New Wave Style Limited who was also injured, was shifted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
He told New Age that the factory owners Adnan and Taposh asked them to join their work as usual although cracks in the building were noticed on Tuesday. ‘An iron rod pierced through my right hand. I found myself falling under a pillar and then I fell unconscious,’ he said.
The building owner, Sohel Rana, also a leader of the Awami Juba League, was holding a meeting with engineers and others in the building when it collapsed.
He was rescued by local lawmaker Tauhid Jang Murad from people’s wrath and he immediately went away. Contacted later, he said on mobile that he was being treated in a hospital in Dhaka and hang up immediately.
New Wave Garment’s time-keeper Jewel Hasan said that all of the 3,300 workers but for 50-60 workers joined work on Wednesday morning.
The minister for home affairs, Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir, and the health minister, Ruhal Haque, visited the spot.
Muhuiddin said that the building might have collapsed because of faulty construction and the owners would be brought to justice.
The BGMEA president, Atiqul Islam, told New Age that they had asked the factory owners to keep the units closed after the cracks had been spotted on Tuesday. ‘But after the inspection by some engineers, the building owner assured the factory owners that there would be no problem,’ he said.
Atiqul, at a news conference in the evening, said that the association would look into why they factory owners had kept their units open despite their instruction to keep them closed.
He also said that the association had set up three teams to oversee the rehabilitation and treatment of the victims and opened two information centres to give families and others information on the victims.
A Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha team that visited the spot said that the building had no Rajuk approval.
‘After a preliminary inspection, we believe that the building was made of low-quality construction materials and there was no involvement of any engineer in the construction or the design of the building,’ Rajuk’s chief engineer Emdadul Islam said.
Rajuk’s member (planning) Sheikh Abdul Mannan said that Savar was officially brought in Rajuk’s jurisdiction after the Detailed Area Plan gazetted in June 2010.
‘The building owners had their plans approved by the Savar municipality seven to eight years ago and it had no Rajuk approval,’ he said.
A former DAP project official, however, told New Age on Wednesday that Savar was under the Rajuk jurisdiction in keeping with the Dhaka Metropolitan Development Plan that was prepared in 1995.
He said that local people often have their building plans approved by municipalities for areas under the Detailed Area Plan to avoid facing legal restrictions of Rajuk.
‘In some cases, there were even no experts in some municipalities to examine the plans,’ the official said.
The authorities announced Tk 20,000 to be given to families against each of the deceased.
Traffic on the stretch of the highway passing by the factory remained suspended since the building collapsed. Vehicles were being diverted at Gabtali and at Nabinagar in other directions.
The $2 billion annual apparel export from Bangladesh has been plagued by incidents of fire and building collapses for years despite a drive to improve safety standards.
One hundred and twelve apparel workers were killed in a fire at Tazreen Fashions Limited at Ashulia of Savar on November 24, 2012.
Sixty-four workers also died when Spectrum Sweater Factory at Savar collapsed on April 11, 2005.

-With New Age input

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