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Six arrested in Bangladesh building collapse

Death toll nears 350

Sunday, April 28, 2013    

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SAVAR, Bangladesh (AP) — Police in Bangladesh yesterday took six people into custody in connection with Wednesday's collapse of a shoddily-constructed building that killed at least 348 people.

Junior Home Minister Shamsul Haque Tuku said police had arrested Bazlus Samad, managing director of New Wave Apparels Ltd, and Mahmudur Rahman Tapash, the company chairman. He told reporters that police had also detained the wife of Mohammed Sohel Rana, the owner of the collapsed Rana Plaza building, for questioning. The top three floors of the eight-storey building were illegally constructed. Military spokesman Shahinul Islam said officials also arrested Aminul Islam, chairman of Phantom Apparels Ltd, late yesterday in Dhaka.

Working round-the-clock since Wednesday through heat and a thunderstorm, rescuers yesterday finally reached the ground floor from the top of the mountainous rubble through 25 narrow holes they have drilled, said Brig Gen Ali Ahmed Khan, the head of the fire services. He admitted that the voices of survivors were getting weaker after four days of being pinned under the increasingly unstable rubble, but in a boost to him and his team, 29 survivors were pulled out yesterday alone, said army spokesman Shahinul Islam.

That puts the toal number of survivors who have been accounted for at 2,429. A garment manufacturers' group said the factories in the building employed 3,122 workers.

Most of the victims were crushed by massive blocks of concrete and mortar when the eight-storey structure came down on Wednesday morning — a time many of the garment factories in the building were packed with workers. It was the worst tragedy to hit Bangladesh's booming and powerful garment industry, and focused attention on the poor working conditions of the employees who toil for $38 a month to produce clothing for top international brands.

"We are still getting response from survivors, though they are becoming weaker slowly," Khan said, adding that rescue workers were now able to see cars that were parked at the ground level.

"The building is very vulnerable. Any time the floors could collapse. We are performing an impossible task, but we are glad that we are able to rescue so many survivors."

He said the operations would continue overnight as chances fade of people surviving for a fifth day with possibly grievous injuries and the heat.

The building site was a hive of frenzied activity all day with soldiers, police and medical workers in lab coats working non-stop. Rescuers passed bottles of water and small cylinders of oxygen up a ladder leaning against the side of the building to be given to possible survivors inside.

They used bare hands and shovels, passing chunks of brick and concrete down a human chain away from the collapsed structure. On the ground, mixed in the debris were several pairs of pink cotton pants, a mud-covered navy blue sock and a pile of green uncut fabric.

Nearby, Abul Basar wept as he awaited news of his wife, who worked in one of the factories. "My son says that his mother will come back some day. She must return! " he cried.

Every once in a while a badly decomposed body would be brought out, covered in cloth and plastic, to a spot where ambulances were parked. Workers furiously sprayed air-fresheners on the bodies to cover the stench, leaving the air thick with the smell of death and cheap perfume.

The disaster surpasses a fire five months ago that killed 112 people and brought widespread pledges to improve worker-safety standards. Since then, very little has changed in Bangladesh, where low wages have made it a magnet for numerous global brands.

Bangladesh's garment industry was the third largest in the world in 2011, after China and Italy, having grown rapidly in the past decade.

Among the garment makers in the building were Phantom Apparels, Phantom Tac, Ether Tex, New Wave Style and New Wave Bottoms. Altogether, they produced several million shirts, pants and other garments a year. The New Wave companies, according to their website, make clothing for several major North American and European retailers.

Britain's Primark acknowledged it was using a factory in Rana Plaza, but many other retailers distanced themselves from the disaster, saying they were not involved with the factories at the time of the collapse or had not recently ordered garments from them.

Wal-Mart said none of its clothing had been authorised to be made in the facility, but it is investigating whether there was any unauthorised production.

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