Thursday, April 25, 2024

Death toll rises to 243

The death toll in the collapse of the eight-storey Rana Plaza at Savar rose to 265 on Thursday, and the figure was climbing with every passing hour. Bodies were being recovered from under the rubble of the ill-fated building that caved in on Wednesday. The tragedy was deepened by the fact that many people, who were sandwiched between the concrete floors for the last 36 hours and were crying out in desperation for dear life, could not be rescued without amputating either their hands or legs.
“I have a son and a daughter. I want to live. Please do something to get me out of here,” a trapped worker wailed when two rescue workers reached him. “But he cannot be moved from here right now as one of his hands is pressed under a concrete pillar. Before we can rescue him, his hands will have to be severed from his body,” said the helpless volunteers.
Hundreds of rescuers tried frantically to rescue the survivors from the building that caved in on Wednesday morning. Till Thursday evening, 1,500 persons had been rescued alive from the building. The survivors said they saw that scores of bodies of dead workers were still scattered inside the rubble of the building.
Dhaka district police super Habibur Rahman told reporters that 265 bodies have been retrieved till 12:10am from the debris of the building. Besides, 213 bodies have been handed over to the families of the deceased.
Searchers worked through the night, probing the jumbled mass of concrete with drills or just their bare hands, passing water and flashlights to the people pinned inside.
In a press briefing in the afternoon, GOC (9 division) Maj. Gen. Chowdhury Hasan Suhradwardi said, “Let us face the heart-rending incident with patience. The rescue operations will continue until the last person is rescued, either alive or dead.” All measures were being taken to rescue those still stuck inside the building, he said, adding that a total of 1,100 trained army personnel were taking part in the rescue operations.
Many workers, mostly young women, some apparently semi-conscious, were pulled out of the rubble by fire-fighters and troops throughout the day.
According to the army rescue team, there is a gap of two feet between the collapsed floors and hydraulic gear is needed to widen this gap. Since there was a shortage of such gear, the rescue operations could not be accelerated.
A temporary control room has been set up near the Savar Bus Stand to provide information to the distraught families.
Meanwhile, inspector general of police (IGP) Hassan Mahmood Khandker said two industrial police constables — Rafiq and ASI Mukul — are still missing since the tragic incident.
The nation observed a day of mourning to grieve over the worst ever tragedy in the readymade garments (RMG) sector. National flags at all government, semi-government and autonomous institutions were kept at half mast. Preparations were made to offer special prayers at all religious institutions. However, offices and educational institutions were open.
Chief inspector of factories and establishments Habibur Rahman filed five cases with the Labour Court against Sohel Rana, the owner of Rana Plaza, and the owners of four garment factories for building the high-rise in violation of the building codes and for failing to ensure workers’ safety.
The police and Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (RAJUK) filed a couple of cases with the Savar model police station on Wednesday night, accusing the owner of the building and the owners of the five garment factories that had been housed in the massive structure.
It is not clear how many people were inside the building when it collapsed, but estimates suggest around 5,000 people, mostly women, were working in the four garment factories at that time.
Regarding the rescue operations, Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) director Md Shaheenul Islam said, “It is very difficult to say when the rescue operations will end. But we will continue our operations till the last person is rescued.”
Regarding the allegations that there was a shortage of equipment, Islam said, “There isn’t any shortage of modern equipment, but we are unable to use these as many people are trapped inside. If we use these, more lives may be lost. As a result, the operation is being carried out in the traditional way, with small implements and equipment.”
Hamidul Haque, an inhabitant of Savar, went inside the debris to take part in the rescue operations. “It is a grim scenario inside the debris of the building. I found many people, including women, who are still trapped and are crying for help. Many are lying dead. The scene defies description.”
“Many dead bodies are trapped inside and emitting a stench. We cannot go inside without oxygen and light, which is hampering the rescue operations,” said Amir Hossain, another member of the rescue team.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) has suspended the membership of the five readymade garment units operating inside Rana Plaza in Savar.
Leader of the Opposition and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia, Jatiya Sangsad chief whip Abdus Shahid, state minister for Liberation War affairs Capt. (retd) AB Tajul Islam and local MP Talukder Towhid Jang Murad visited the spot.
The directorate general of health services has opened a round-the-clock emergency control room at its Mohakhali headquarters to monitor the medical care of those injured in the collapse of the high-rise in Savar.
Reuters adds: Soon after the building collapsed, Canada-based Loblaw came forward to confirm a connection with the building. It said one factory made a small number of ‘Joe Fresh’ apparel items for the company.
“We are extremely saddened to learn of the collapse of a building complex in Bangladesh and our condolences go out to those affected by this tragedy,” Julija Hunter, public relations vice-president for Loblaw Companies, said in an email.
“We will be working with our vendor to understand how we may be able to assist them during this time,” Hunter said. Loblaw Companies Ltd makes Joe Fresh clothing as well as President’s Choice supermarket packaged food. Its parent is the food processing and distribution firm George Weston Ltd, according to information provided by Reuters.
Loblaw said it set vendor standards to ensure that products are made “in a socially responsible way” and conducts regular audits. Those standards include prohibiting child harassment and abuse or forced labour, and ensuring fair pay and benefits. Bangladesh employs around 3.6 million people in the garment industry and is the world’s second-largest apparel exporter.
However, Edward Hertzman, a sourcing agent based in New York, who also publishes the trade magazine ‘Sourcing Journal’, said pressure from US retailers to keep a lid on costs continues to foster unsafe conditions.
Hertzman, whose trade publication has offices in Bangladesh, said New Wave Bottoms Ltd occupied the second floor, Phantom Apparels Ltd the third, Phantom Tack Ltd the fourth and Ethar Textile Ltd the fifth. The New Wave website listed 27 main buyers, including firms from the UK, Denmark, France, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Canada and the US.

-With The Independent  input

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