Bangladesh death toll hits 230 amid desperate search

AFP, SAVAR, Bangladesh

Fri, Apr 26, 2013 - Page 1

Thousands of distraught relatives watched rescuers yesterday battle to find their loved ones in the rubble of a collapsed Bangladeshi garment factory compound as the toll climbed past 230.

Forty people were rescued alive yesterday from a room inside the collapsed garment factory compound in an operation broadcast live on TV. The rescue was greeted with loud cheers by thousands of people massed at the scene.

The latest in a spate of tragedies prompted new criticism of Western brands, who were accused by activists of placing profit before safety by sourcing their products from Bangladesh, despite its shocking track record of deadly disasters.

Hundreds of thousands of workers walked out of their factories in solidarity with their dead colleagues as flags flew at half mast and a national day of mourning was held.

Plaintive appeals from trapped survivors filtering through the cracks in the concrete offered some hope, but emergency workers spent much of their day pulling out dead bodies.

The accident has again highlighted safety problems and poor working conditions that plague the textile industry in Bangladesh, the world’s second-biggest clothing exporter.

In November last year, a blaze at a factory making clothing for Walmart and other Western labels in Dhaka left 111 people dead, with survivors describing how fire exits were kept locked by site managers.

“Garment entrepreneurs are above the law here. There is hardly any example of an owner being prosecuted for this kind of outright murder,” said Babul Akhter, head of the Bangladesh Garments and Industrial Workers Federation.

“The Western retailers are also complicit because they turn a blind eye to the manufacturers’ shoddy practices,” he said. “Like manufacturers, these retailers are also using Bangladesh’s army of cheap laborers as money-making machines.”

At the scene of the disaster, relatives desperate for news descended on the scene in their thousands, clutching photographs.

There were a few moments of joy as a handful of survivors were plucked from the rubble.

“I became so hungry that at one stage, I drank my urine,” said an ecstatic Abul Hossain, 23, as he was pulled alive from the ruins more than 25 hours after the disaster.

However, that was a rare shaft of light in an otherwise grim scene, as body after body was laid out in the grounds of a nearby school.