/ 13 April 2005

Fading hopes for survivors in collapsed building

Hopes were fading on Wednesday for more than 100 people feared trapped in a collapsed Bangladesh factory as rescuers raced against the clock to reach anyone still alive in the rubble.

Officials said it is possible for people trapped in voids to survive for up to four days. Twenty-eight bodies have so far been recovered.

The illegally constructed building housing the Spectrum Sweater and Knitting Industries factory at Palash Bari, 30km north-west of the capital, was packed with night-shift workers when it collapsed early on Monday following a boiler explosion.

”Even if we can save just one person, it will be worth the effort,” said firefighter Abdus Salam, who is leading the search.

”We think it is possible that some people might be able to survive for up to four days, so at the moment our priority is to find any pockets where people might still be alive rather than to recover bodies,” he added.

An army spokesperson said the number of people believed trapped beneath the wrecked nine-storey building was revised again Wednesday from 114 to 122 based on missing-person reports filed by relatives.

Earlier, about 100 people were rescued, but officials said cries for help from beneath the debris have stopped.

Rescuers working from the top of the collapsed building have cut a well through the wreckage, allowing them to access the different floors.

”We have got down as far as the third floor and we hope to reach the second floor soon,” added Salam, saying there are spaces between the floors where people may still be alive.

”We still think there could be some voids inside where people might be alive, but we have to reach them in time,” he said.

Relatives of those still missing continued to wait at the scene for news.

”Our son Iman Ali was 15. He was working there but we know that he is dead,” said his parents, Fatema Khatun and Abdus Salam, adding that after three days of waiting they no longer have the strength to weep.

Another woman, who gave her name as Shahera, said her husband had been looking forward to taking their daughter to a Dhaka theme park to celebrate the Bengali New Year on Thursday.

”I think he has been crushed. The situation is hopeless. I just want to find his body,” she added.

Survivors, including one man who managed to crawl out of the debris unaided on Tuesday, said they heard a loud explosion just before the building collapsed.

”After the explosion, concrete started falling from everywhere,” said Al Mamun Palash (24), speaking from his hospital bed.

City planning officials have launched an investigation after it emerged that the factory was 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. — Sapa-AFP