Rescue workers in Bangladesh gave up hopes of finding any more survivors in the remains of a building that collapsed days ago, and began using heavy machinery yesterday to dislodge the rubble and look for bodies — mostly of workers in garment factories there.
A court also allowed police 15 days to interrogate the building’s owner, Mohammed Sohel Rana, who was arrested on Sunday near the border with India, and returned to Dhaka yesterday.
He will be held for questioning on charges of negligence, illegal construction and forcing workers to join work.
His father, Abdul Khaleque, was also arrested on suspicion of aiding Rana to force people to work in a dangerous building.
Rana was brought to the Dhaka Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court in a bullet-proof vest, and led away to an unknown detention place after the magistrate granted a police request to hold him longer before filing formal charges. The crimes he is accused of carry a maximum punishment of seven years. More charges could be added later.
In renewed anger against conditions in garment factories, hundreds of workers poured into the streets in the Dhaka suburb of Ashulia and set fire to an ambulance yesterday, the Independent TV, a private network, reported. They also tried to set fire to a factory, it said.
Authorities shut down all garment factories in Ashulia and Gazipur industrial suburbs, including one that had reportedly developed cracks and was evacuated earlier.
At least 381 people were killed when the illegally constructed, eight-story Rana Plaza collapsed in a heap on Wednesday last week along with thousands of workers in the five garment factories in the building. About 2,500 survivors have been accounted for.
The collapse was the deadliest disaster to hit the garment industry in Bangladesh, which is worth US$20 billion annually and supplies global retailers.
Volunteers, army personnel and firemen have worked around the clock since Wednesday, mostly using their bare hands and light equipment to pull out survivors. At about midnight on Sunday, authorities deployed hydraulic cranes and heavy cutting machines to break up the massive slabs of concrete into manageable segments that could be lifted away.
“We are proceeding cautiously. If there is still a soul alive, we will try to rescue that person,” army spokesman Shahinul Islam said.
“There is little hope of finding anyone alive. Our men went inside and saw some dead bodies in the ground floor, but no one was seen alive,” said Brigadier General Ali Ahmed Khan, the chief of the fire brigade at the scene.
Gone are the civilian volunteers who had swarmed the site since the disaster and had been crawling over the wreckage. Only army soldiers in green camouflage and hard hats were visible, watching heavy machinery digging into thick concrete. Gone also were the waiting ambulances that had rushed the rescued to hospitals.
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday visited the site and a nearby hospital to meet with survivors, the first time since the disaster.
Witnesses said Rana assured tenants that the building was safe. However, police ordered an evacuation. A bank and some first-floor shops closed, but managers of the garment factories on the upper floors told workers to continue their shifts.
Hours later, the Rana Plaza was reduced to rubble, crushing most victims under massive blocks of concrete.
Police have arrested four owners of three factories. Also in detention for questioning are two municipal engineers who were involved in approving the building’s design. Local TV stations reported that the Bangladesh High Court has frozen the bank accounts of the owners of all five garment factories.
A garment manufacturers’ group said the factories in the building employed 3,122 workers, but it was not clear how many were inside when it fell. About 2,500 survivors have been accounted for.