An eight-story building containing several garment factories and thousands of workers collapsed in Bangladesh yesterday, killing at least 87 people, with many more feared dead.
Only the ground floor of the Rana Plaza in the town of Savar, just outside the capital, Dhaka, remained intact when the block — which one minister said was illegally constructed — imploded at about 9am.
Armed with concrete cutters and cranes, hundreds of fire service and army rescue workers struggled to find survivors in the mountain of concrete and mangled steel, which resembled the aftermath of an earthquake.
Corpses and the injured were evacuated from the higher reaches of the pile of flattened floors with makeshift slides made from cloth that just hours earlier was being cut into shirts and trousers for export to Western markets.
“The rescue work is going on in full swing, but it’ll take days to complete the task. It’s a huge tragedy,” said Zehadul Islam, a major in the fire department.
Hiralal Roy, a senior emergency ward doctor at the nearby Enam Hospital, where victims were being taken, said more than 80 people had died and at least 1,000 injured people had been treated at the hospital.
“Most of the dead are garment workers. The toll will rise as the conditions of some of the injured were critical,” he said, adding the hospital had appealed for emergency blood donations.
Some workers complained that the building had developed cracks on Tuesday evening, triggering an evacuation, but they had been forced back to the production lines by their managers.
“The managers forced us to rejoin, and just one hour after we entered the factory, the building collapsed with a huge noise,” said a 24-year-old worker, who gave her first name as Mousumi.
“I am injured, but I’ve not found my husband, who was working on the fourth floor,” she said, estimating that 5,000 people worked inside the building, which also housed apartments, a bank and stores.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association said that the factories at the building employed more than 2,600 workers.
Masuda Begum, 22, said she survived by running under a sewing machine as the roof fell down.
“The whole building was shaking just half an hour after we started work. There were hundreds of workers on our floor. Suddenly, it became dark. A few of us managed to crawl out, but I don’t know what happened to others,” she said.