/ 11 April 2005

Up to 200 trapped in collapsed factory

Up to 200 workers are believed trapped in the rubble of an eight-storey factory that collapsed in Bangladesh on Monday. Fifteen people have been confirmed killed, officials said.

The concrete building, packed with night-shift workers, caved in soon after midnight when a boiler exploded, said police spokesperson Nazrul Islam.

Firefighters using shovels and bare hands dug frantically as survivors called for help from beneath the debris. Distraught relatives assembled at the scene.

One man called police on his cellphone to say he was trapped with 20 other people.

Survivors working at the Spectrum Sweater and Knitting Industries factory, 30km north-west of Dhaka, said the building collapsed after they heard a loud explosion.

”Within two or three minutes, the whole building started to shake violently,” said Mahubur Rahman (30), who was working on the fourth floor with about 90 other people.

”The next thing I remember is waking up under some machinery with about six or seven other people. The fire brigade rescued me but four of my fingers are crushed and I have chest injuries,” he said from his hospital bed.

Another survivor, Helaluddin, said he was a supervisor on the sixth floor where about 80 or 90 people were working.

”I was walking towards the stairs. Suddenly there was this noise and then I felt as if someone had pushed me. Moments later I found myself in complete darkness,” he said.

Fifteen out of the 100 people rescued from the collapsed building died after being taken to hospital, said Captain Shahed Chowdhury of the Rapid Action Battalion security force.

”From the information we have gathered, we estimate there are about 200 still inside,” added Saber Sharif, Rapid Action Battalion commander.

Firefighters said trapped workers have been calling out to rescuers.

”We are hearing noises from the rubble. One man called out he was dying and needed help. But it’s difficult to reach people because the building has collapsed in layers and inside there are very few pockets,” said firefighter Parimal Chandra.

”For the people there, chances of survival are getting thinner all the time if we cannot bring in some specialist equipment. Without that, it could take more than two weeks to lift all the debris,” he added.

Police officer Nurul Islam said rescuers are still trying to find the man who called for help on his cellphone.

”A knitwear worker telephoned us at 8am to say that he was trapped with 20 other people in a space,” he said.

”Unfortunately we were unable to call back because the line was not working and we have not been able to find those people yet,” he added.

A crowd of several thousand, including weeping relatives, gathered at the scene.

”My brother Abdul Razzaq is a knitting machine operator. He was working there,” said one woman, who gave her name as Selina. ”Normally there is no one working there after 10pm, but they were working night shifts because they had a big order.”

Another woman, Jharna, said there would have been about 200 people inside the building.

”My husband, Nurul Alam, is missing. I am just waiting here for news. I was working there myself last night but I left at 10pm to go home,” she said in tears.

The garment industry is Bangladesh’s biggest export sector, accounting for 80% of foreign revenues and employing about 1,8-million lowly paid workers, mostly women.

Poor safety standards in the garment industry frequently result in accidents.

In January, at least 22 workers were killed when fire swept through a garment factory near Dhaka. Last May, seven people died in a stampede when workers rushed to the sole exit after a false fire alarm.

In November 2000, at least 48 workers died when they were trapped inside a burning factory near Dhaka due to a locked fire exit. — Sapa-AFP