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Bangladesh building collapse victims buried

By Farid Hossain

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, May 1 2013 1:21 p.m. MDT

Workers carry unclaimed bodies from the garment factory building collapse in preparation for a mass burial on Wednesday May 1, 2013 in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Several hundred people attended a mass funeral in a Dhaka suburb for 18 unidentified workers who died in the building collapse last week last week in the country's worst industrial disaster, killing at least 402 people and injuring 2,500. The bodies, rotting in the spring heat, were brought to the graveyard on the back of a flatbed truck.

Wong Maye-E, Associated Press

JURAIN, Bangladesh — Dozens of Bangladeshi garment workers, their bodies too battered or decomposed to be identified, were buried in a mass funeral Wednesday, a week after the eight-story building they worked in toppled down, killing at least 410 people and injuring thousands.

Hundreds attended the traditional Muslim funeral and many more looked on from the roofs of nearby buildings as the bodies, rotting in the spring heat, were brought to the graveyard on the back of flatbed trucks.

Onlookers covered their noses. One woman rushed through the crowd to the back of a truck wailing that one of the bodies was her sister's. She begged to take it as family members held on to her to keep her from collapsing.

Local men and boys recited a traditional Muslim prayer for the dead. Then, 34 bodies were unloaded and placed in the graves.

Workers at the cemetery have dug several long rows of graves as authorities expect to bury scores more unidentified bodies in the coming days.

"I would not have to take part in this if the government acted more responsibly," said Rasel Islam, a 32-year-old man who attended the burial.

Five garment factories were housed in the illegally constructed Rana Plaza building that collapsed April 24, five months after a fire killed 112 people at another clothing factory. The tragedies exposed the unsafe conditions plaguing Bangladesh's $20 billion-a-year garment industry, which supplies many European and American retailers.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis said he was shocked by a headline about the building collapse that said some of the workers were living on 38 euros a month.

"This was the payment of these people who have died ... and this is called 'slave labor,'" he said. Vatican Radio said the pope made the remarks during a private Mass at the Vatican.

EU officials said they are considering action including changes to Bangladesh's duty-free and quota-free access to the giant EU market to "incentivize" responsible management of the nation's garment industry. Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign affairs chief, and its trade commissioner, Karel De Gucht, called in a statement for Bangladesh authorities to act immediately to ensure factories comply with international labor standards.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said businesses operating in the Rana Plaza appeared to have links to numerous companies in the U.S. and Europe. "We'll continue to engage with U.S. companies to discuss what role they can play in improving conditions," he told reporters. He did not give details on the companies.

Pressure built inside Bangladesh as well, as a raucous May Day procession of workers on foot, pickup trucks and motorcycles wound its way through central Dhaka demanding safe working conditions and capital punishment for the building's owner. They waved the national flag and banners, beat drums and chanted "Direct action!" and "Death penalty!"

From a loudspeaker on the back of a truck, a participant spoke for the group: "My brother has died. My sister has died. Their blood will not be valueless."

The death toll from the collapse passed 400 Wednesday, with a total of 410 people confirmed dead so far, police said.

Rescue workers expect the death toll to rise, because they believe many bodies are still buried on the ground level of the building.

There is confusion over how many people remain missing.

Zillur Rahman Chowdhury, a Dhaka district administrator, said so far 149 people have been listed missing. A police official, Aminur Rahman, said police have recorded up to 1,300 names as missing, but he cautioned that many may be duplicates. "We will now have to screen the names by computer to find the actual number," he said.

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