Asia-Pacific

Monday 28 July 2014

Bangladesh building collapse death toll tops 1,000

Published 10/05/2013|08:30

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Workers and army personnel use heavy machinery as they work to clear the site of the collapsed factory in Bangladesh (AP)
Workers and army personnel use heavy machinery as they work to clear the site of the collapsed factory in Bangladesh (AP)

THE death toll from the catastrophic collapse of a Bangladesh factory building has climbed above 1,000.

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It is now the world's worst industrial accident since the Bhopal disaster in India in 1984, and more bodies might still be trapped inside as rescuers struggle to end the salvage operation.

More that two weeks after the accident, bodies were still being pulled from the rubble of the Rana Plaza complex, and on Friday a spokesman at the army control room coordinating the operation said the number of people confirmed to have been killed had reached 1,038.

A series of deadly incidents at factories have focused global attention on safety standards in Bangladesh's booming garment industry. Eight people were killed in a fire at a factory this week, which an industry association said on Friday may have been started deliberately.

Roughly 2,500 people were rescued from Rana Plaza, in the industrial suburb of Savar, around 20 miles (30 km) northwest of Dhaka, including many injured, but there is no official estimate of the numbers still missing.

The disaster, believed to have been triggered when generators were started up during a blackout, has put the spotlight on Western retailers who use the impoverished South Asian nation as a source of cheap goods.

Nine people have been arrested in connection with the disaster, including the building's owner and bosses of the factories it housed.

Hundreds of relatives were still gathered at the site, some holding up photographs of family members. Rescue workers have found it increasingly difficult to identify decomposing bodies and are using ID cards found on them or even their mobile phones to do so.

"A total of 156 unidentified victims have been buried," said Dhaka District Administrator Mohammad Yousuf Harun, adding that DNA samples taken from the bodies had been preserved so tests could be done if relatives come forward later.

The government has blamed the owners and builders of the eight-storey complex for using shoddy construction materials, including substandard rods, bricks and cement, and not obtaining the necessary clearances.

Bangladesh's garment industry, which accounts for 80 percent of the poor South Asian country's exports, has seen a series of deadly accidents, including a fire in November that killed 112 people.

The Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) said it believed a fire at the Tung Hai Group factory in Dhaka this week, in which eight people including the firm's managing director and a senior police officer were killed, may have been arson.

"We think this was an act of sabotage. We want a proper investigation into this," said BGMEA President Mohammad Atiqul Islam. "When the fire broke out the factory was closed and most of the switches in the factory were off."

Fire service officials said they were still investigating the cause the fire.

Duty-free access offered by Western countries and low wages have helped turn Bangladesh's garment exports into a $19 billion-a-year industry, with 60 percent of clothes going to Europe.

The European Union, which gives preferential access to Bangladeshi garments, had threatened punitive measures in order to press Dhaka to improve worker safety standards after the collapse of the illegally built factory on April 24.

About 4 million people work in Bangladesh's garment industry, making it the world's second-largest apparel exporter after China.

Reuters

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