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Bangladesh building collapse: death toll reaches 167

Garment workers say cracks in building were ignored

Bangladesh building collapse: death toll reaches 167
Thousands are said to be trapped inside the collapsed building reporter, Dhaka

April 25, 2013

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The government declared a day of mourning on Thursday as the death toll climbed to 167 a day after the collapse of an eight-storey complex of garment factories and shops in Dhaka.

Reports said that as many as 2,000 people may have been working on the top floor when the building on the outskirts of the Bangladeshi capital collapsed on Wednesday morning, with authorities suggesting that the death toll was likely to rise further.

“We are trying to rescue several thousand people alive who are still trapped inside,” fire service Director-General Ali Ahmed Khan said late on Wednesday.

Using bulldozers, cutters and cranes, firefighters and soldiers struggled to look for survivors amid the mountains of concrete and mangled steel rubble of the destroyed Rana Plaza building in Savar sub-district, about 20 kms north of the city center.

The disaster has raised fresh concerns over the working conditions of Bangladesh’s low-paid garment workers amid claims that bosses knew the building was unsafe before it collapsed.

Rafiq Mian, a 28-year-old garment worker who survived by smashing a window and jumping off the building as it collapsed, said that he and others reported a large crack in the structure on Tuesday but were ignored.

“Building owners and garment managers told us that there was nothing to worry about. They didn’t take any action to evacuate the building,” he said.

Among the wailing relatives outside the building on Wednesday afternoon was Sufia Begum, 32, looking for two brothers she believed were trapped under the rubble.

“My brothers didn’t want to come to work after knowing about the cracks … but the managers threatened to cut a month’s salary if they didn’t come in. I don’t know yet if my brothers are dead or alive,” said Begum, sobbing.

After visiting the scene on Wednesday, Home Minister MK Alamgir said that Rana Plaza had violated building codes.

“We will investigate the incident and take stern action against those who are responsible for this tragedy,” he said.

Building collapses are common in Bangladesh as developers often ignore building codes when constructing multi-storey structures. Every year dozens of people are killed in collapsing buildings. In 2005, a garment factory collapsed killing about 70 workers. 

Wednesday’s disaster is the second to hit Bangladesh’s garment industry – the largest in the world after China – in less than six months. In November, 111 workers were killed in a factory fire outside of Dhaka.

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