cbc.ca (© Copyright: (C) Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, http://www.cbc.ca/aboutcbc/discover/termsofuse.html#Rss)
Updated: Sun, 28 Apr 2013 14:47:49 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Bangladesh building wreckage catches fire



Bangladesh building wreckage catches fire

A fire has broken out in the wreckage of the garment factory that collapsed last week in Bangladesh, with smoke pouring from the piles of shattered concrete and some rescue efforts forced to stop.

Officials say the fire broke out because of sparks generated as rescuers tried to cut through a steel rod to reach a survivor. Firefighters are trying to bring the fire under control.

Rescuers have retreated from the part of the wreckage where the fire was located, but were still trying to reach survivors in other parts of the destroyed eight-storey building.

Officials say at least three rescue workers have been injured in the fire.

On Sunday, the owner of the illegally-constructed building was arrested at a border crossing with India, a government minister said.

Mohammed Sohel Rana was arrested near the land-crossing in Benapole in western Bangladesh, along the border with India's West Bengal state, and is being brought back to the capital Dhaka, said Jahangir Kabir Nanak, junior minister for local government.

An announcement was also made by loudspeaker at the site of the collapsed building in a Dhaka suburb, where people cheered and clapped. At least 377 people are confirmed to have died in the collapse of the 8-storey building on Wednesday. Three of its floors were built illegally.

The death toll is expected to rise but it is already the deadliest tragedy to hit Bangladesh's garment industry, which is worth $20 billion annually and a mainstay of the economy. The collapse and previous disasters in garment factories have focused attention on the poor working conditions of workers who toil for as little as $38 a month to produce clothing for top international brands.

Rana, a small-time politician from the ruling party, had been on the run since Wednesday. He had appeared in front of Rana Plaza on Tuesday after huge cracks appeared in the structure. However, he assured tenants, including five garment factories, that the building was safe.

A bank and some shops on the first floor shut their premises on Wednesday after police ordered an evacuation, but managers of the garment factories on the upper floor told workers to continue their shifts.

Hours later Rana Plaza was reduced to rubble, and most victims were crushed by massive blocks of concrete and mortar falling on them. A garment manufacturers' group said the factories in the building employed 3,122 workers, but it was not clear how many were inside it when it collapsed. About 2,500 survivors have been accounted for.

On Sunday, rescuers located nine people alive inside the rubble on Sunday. Rescuers were supposed to start using heavy equipment to drill a central hole from the top to look for survivors and dead bodies. But the operation was delayed after rescuers located a woman inside the building, and were trying to pull her out.

Army Maj. Gen. Chowdhury Hasan Suhrawardy, the coordinator of the rescue operations, said so far rescuers have been manually shifting concrete blocks with the help of light equipment such as pickaxes and shovels.

Worker pulled out alive

The next phase will involve manual efforts as well as heavy equipment, including hydraulic cranes and cutters to bore a hole from the top of the collapsed building, he told reporters.

The purpose is to "continue the operation to recover both survivors and dead bodies. In this stage, we have no other choice but to use some heavy equipment. We will start it within a few hours. Manual operation and use of small equipment is not enough," he said.

The work will be carried out carefully so as not to mutilate bodies, he said. All the equipment is in place, "from a small blade to everything. We have engaged many private sector companies which supplied us equipment, even some heavy ones."

In rare good news, a female worker was pulled out alive on Sunday.

Hasan Akbari, a rescuer, said when he tried to extricate a man next to the woman, "he said his body was being torn apart. So I had to let go. But God willing, we will be able to rescue him with more help very soon."

Saturday, police arrested three owners of two factories. Also under detention are Rana's wife and two government engineers who were involved in giving approval for the building design. Local television stations reported that the Bangladesh High Court has frozen the bank accounts of the owners of all five garment factories in the collapsed building.

Rana was a local leader of ruling Awami League's youth front. His arrest, and that of the factory owners, was ordered by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is also the Awami League leader.

The disaster is the worst ever for the country's booming and powerful garment industry, surpassing a fire five months ago that killed 112 people and brought widespread pledges to improve worker-safety standards. But since then very little has changed in Bangladesh, where low wages have made it a magnet for numerous global brands.

Bangladesh's garment industry was the third largest in the world in 2011, after China and Italy, having grown rapidly in the past decade. The country's minimum wage is the equivalent of about $38 a month.

Among the garment makers in the building were Phantom Apparels, Phantom Tac, Ether Tex, New Wave Style and New Wave Bottoms. Altogether, they produced several million shirts, pants and other garments a year.

The New Wave companies, according to their website, make clothing for several major North American and European retailers.

more video