/ 12 April 2005

Hunt continues for survivors in collapsed factory

Rescue workers trying to reach 90 people trapped under the rubble of a collapsed factory in Bangladesh warned on Tuesday that time is running out to find survivors, as the death toll reached 25.

Firefighters, police and army engineers used shovels and their bare hands in a desperate search for anyone still alive after the nine-storey building fell early on Monday. Officials said cries for help from beneath the rubble have stopped.

About 100 people have been brought out alive, but the rescue operation is being hampered by a lack of concrete-cutting equipment, they said.

”We are still doing things manually; we cannot use lifting equipment because we have to use caution in case there are people still alive underneath the debris,” said the head of the rescue operation, army Brigadier General Nizam Ahmed.

The illegally constructed building housing the Spectrum Sweater and Knitting Industries factory at Palash Bari, 30km north-west of the capital, collapsed like a house of cards after a boiler exploded. It had been packed with night-shift workers.

Firefighters were digging through the debris from the top of the collapsed building.

”Level after level of concrete slabs is pressed together. All we have been able to do is break through a few of them at certain points,” said Ahmed.

Salim Newaz Khan, director general of the Dhaka fire brigade, said it will take at least three more days to reach all those trapped.

”The likelihood of survival for the trapped people is getting less all the time,” he said.

The death toll stands at 25, said a spokesperson for the Rapid Action Battalion security force. Ninety-one people have been reported missing by relatives and 108 people have been rescued alive, the spokesperson said.

Most of those rescued from the building were injured in the crush, officials said.

Survivors said they heard a loud explosion just before the building collapsed.

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

A crowd of several thousand, including distraught relatives, continued to wait at the scene on Tuesday for news of the missing workers.

The owners of the factory said in a statement they will pay compensation to victims, the official BSS news agency said.

City planning officials quoted by the news agency said the factory had been constructed on marshland without planning permission.

The garment industry is Bangladesh’s biggest export sector, employing about 1,8-million lowly paid workers.

Poor safety standards in the industry frequently result in accidents claiming scores of lives. — AFP