/ 25 February 2006

Five-storey building collapses in Bangladesh

A five-storey building undergoing renovations collapsed in the Bangladeshi capital on Saturday, killing at least 16 people and injuring 45, the army said.

Soldiers, police, fire officials and hundreds of volunteers rushed to the scene to pull out victims trapped under the caved-in Phoenix Building in the city’s congested industrial area.

”We have got 16 people dead and 45 injured so far,” army general Nizam Ahmed, who was supervising the rescue operations, said.

Rescuers were using bulldozers and cutters to break through and reach those trapped by heavy slabs of concrete that were being shifted by cranes.

The building housed a garment-making outlet and street-level shops, and construction labourers had been working on several upper floors to turn them into a private hospital.

Police said many workers were inside the building at the time of the collapse but had no exact tally.

”I was working on the third floor when I suddenly heard a loud noise and the floor starting to collapse beneath me in a storm of dust,” said construction labourer Bhopal Hawlader.

Hawlader, who suffered chest injuries and was speaking from his hospital bed, said there were scores of construction workers inside the building at the time of the collapse.

Some rescuers were frantically tugging at debris with their bare hands as the relatives of the missing looked on anxiously.

”We can hear noises of cries for help,” firefighter Nazrul Islam said.

A doctor at Dhaka Medical College where casualties were being taken said at least 30 of the injured people ”are in very serious condition”.

”Thirteen have been taken to the operating room,” said emergency-room doctor Nilima Ferdousi, adding most of the injured had fractures and some had limbs that were nearly severed.

The building caved in at about 10am local time on Saturday morning as work was in full swing, witnesses said. Although Saturday is a holiday in Bangladesh, many businesses keep working throughout the weekend.

”I was out fetching tea for my shop owner. As I was coming back, I saw the building caving in,” said Shahidul Islam, a tea boy at the building.

”The first two floors of the building were swallowed by the ground which gave way within just a few minutes,” he said. ”Some people who were working in the front portion of the building managed to escape before the building collapsed.”

The Phoenix Building collapse was the second disaster to strike the impoverished South Asian nation in the past two days.

Late on Thursday, 52 people were killed and more than 100 injured, many seriously, after a fire swept through a textile factory in the south-eastern port city of Chittagong.

Officials said the blaze in which workers were unable to flee because factory bosses had locked the doors to prevent theft was the worst industrial fire tragedy in Bangladesh’s history. — Sapa-AFP