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Bangladesh collapse factories ignored evacuation

By Julhas Alam

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, April 25 2013 9:17 a.m. MDT

A Bangladeshi woman relative of a victim cries at the site of a building that collapsed Wednesday in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, Thursday, April 25, 2013. By Thursday, the death toll reached at least 194 people as rescuers continued to search for injured and missing, after a huge section of an eight-story building that housed several garment factories splintered into a pile of concrete.

A.M. Ahad, Associated Press

SAVAR, Bangladesh — Deep cracks visible in the walls of a Bangladesh garment building had compelled police to order it evacuated a day before it collapsed, officials said Thursday. More than 230 people were killed when the eight-story building splintered into a pile of concrete because factories based there ignored the order and kept more than 2,000 people working.

Wednesday's disaster in the Dhaka suburb of Savar is the worst ever for Bangladesh's booming and powerful garment industry, surpassing a fire less than five months earlier that killed 112 people. Workers at both sites made clothes for major brands around the world; some of the companies in the building that fell say their customers include retail giants such as Wal-Mart.

Hundreds of rescuers, some crawling through the maze of rubble in search of survivors and corpses, worked through the night and all day Thursday amid the cries of the trapped and the wails of workers' relatives gathered outside the building, called Rana Plaza. It housed numerous garment factories and a handful of other companies.

Late Thursday, rescuers located 40 survivors trapped in a room on the fourth floor of the building, said Brig. Gen. Mohammed Siddiqul Alam Shikder, who is overseeing the rescue operations.

He said 12 had been rescued and emergency teams were working to free the others.

An Associated Press cameraman who went elsewhere into the rubble with rescue workers spoke briefly to a garment worker pinned face down in the darkness between concrete slabs and next to two corpses. Mohammad Altab pleaded for help, but they were unable to free him.

"Save us, brother. I beg you, brother. I want to live," Altab moaned. "It's so painful here ... I have two little children."

Another survivor, whose voice could be heard from deep in the rubble, wept as he called for help.

"We want to live, brother. It's hard to remain alive here. It would have been better to die than enduring such pain to live on. We want to live. Please save us," the man cried.

After the cracks were reported in the walls of Rana Plaza on Tuesday, managers of a local bank that also had an office in the building evacuated their workers. The garment factories, though, kept working, ignoring the instructions of the local industrial police, said Mostafizur Rahman, a director of that paramilitary police force.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association had also asked the factories to suspend work starting Wednesday morning, hours before the collapse.

"After we got the crack reports, we asked them to suspend work until further examination, but they did not pay heed," said Atiqul Islam, the group's president.

On Thursday morning, the odor of rotting bodies wafted through holes cut into the building. Bangladesh's junior minister for home affairs, Shamsul Haque, said that by late Thursday morning 2,000 people had been rescued from the wreckage.

Rescue chief Shikder said the death toll had climbed to 238 by Thursday evening.

Dozens of bodies, their faces covered, were laid outside a local school building so relatives could identify them. Thousands of workers' relatives gathered outside the building, waiting for news, and thousands of garment workers from nearby factories took to the streets across the industrial zone in protest.

Shikder said rescue operations were progressing slowly and carefully to save as many people as possible.

He said rescue teams were standing by with heavy equipment and would "start bulldozing the debris once we get closer to the end of the operation. But now we are careful."

He also said the huge crowd that remained at the collapse site Thursday was interfering with getting more rescuers to the scene.

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