DHAKA, May 8(AFP) – The death toll from the collapse of a garment factory complex in Bangladesh approached the 800 mark on Wednesday after dozens more bodies were found in the rubble overnight, a fortnight after the disaster.
Army spokesman Lieutenant Mir Rabbi told AFP that the “toll now stands at 782” but a general overseeing the recovery operation in the country’s worst industrial disaster warned that it was likely to rise further.
More than 3,000 garment workers were on shift at the Rana Plaza complex at the time of the collapse on the morning of April 24, making clothing for Western retailers such as Britain’s Primark and the Spanish label Mango.
Officials overseeing the disaster operation have said a total of 2,437 people have been rescued from the ruins of the building which housed a total of five garment factories in the town of Savar, a suburb of the capital Dhaka.
Brigadier General Siddiqul Alam Sikder told AFP that the cranes and bulldozers were clearing debris on the third floor and the stench of bodies trapped in the lower floors and under the beams suggest the toll would rise.
“We’re expecting to find some bodies because we still haven’t reached the bottom. We’ve finished around 70 percent of the job,” he said.
Many bodies were found in the staircases as panicked garment workers had rushed away from their floors after hearing a loud noise. The Rana Plaza collapsed within five minutes, leaving them trapped.
“We got around 150 bodies from the stairs,” he said, adding there might be “not much in the ground, first and second floors because these floors housed shops and a bank, which normally are not open at 9:00am,” the time of the disaster.
Efforts to identify the victims are being hampered by the decomposition of bodies. Recovery workers, who are drawn from the ranks of the army and fire service, are having to wear masks and use air freshener.
Fearful that Western brand names may turn their back on Bangladesh, the government announced a new high-level panel on Monday to inspect thousands of garment factories for building flaws.
The April 24 collapse was the latest in a string of deadly accidents to hit the textile industry. A factory fire last November killed 111 garment workers.