Bangladesh factory collapse toll passes 1,000

Media caption,
Bulldozers and diggers are still moving rubble at the site, as Claire Brennan reports

The death toll from Bangladesh's worst industrial accident has passed 1,000 as recovery teams continue to find more bodies in the wreckage.

The eight-storey Rana Plaza factory building near Dhaka collapsed on 24 April with an unknown number inside.

The authorities say about 2,500 people were injured in the accident and 2,437 people were rescued.

The recovery operation is expected to finish on Friday. The rubble will then be shifted by bulldozers.

On Friday morning, officials said a total of 1,021 bodies had been recovered from the debris of the fallen factory building in Savar. Almost 650 have so far been identified and handed over to families.

Many bodies were decomposed, but could be identified by mobile phones in their pockets or staff passes, Army Captain Shahnewaz Zakaria said, adding that "most are female garment workers".

The authorities are taking DNA samples from the victims, which can be used in future compensation claims, AFP news agency reported.

Brigadier-General Siddiqul Alam, who is overseeing the recovery operation, said: "We have found a huge number of bodies in the stairwell and under the staircases. When the building started to collapse, workers thought they would be safe under the staircases."

"Each time we moved a slab of concrete, we found a stack of bodies."

Bodies are being taken to a nearby school building where relatives of those still missing are waiting.

Correspondents say the silence is frequently broken by wailing as victims are identified by their families.

The Rana Plaza building had housed a number of garment factories.

A number of people have been arrested and charged with causing deaths by negligence. Protesters have taken to the streets calling for the death penalty for the Rana Plaza's owner, Mohammad Sohel Rana.

Just a day before the collapse, the building was briefly evacuated when cracks appeared in the walls. However, workers were later allowed back in or told to return by the factory owners.

Image caption,
It is not clear how many more bodies remain in the Rana Plaza building

The government has launched an inquiry. Preliminary findings suggest vibrations from four giant generators on the compound's upper floors triggered the collapse.

The Bangladeshi Nobel Peace Prize winner, Muhammad Yunus, wrote in an article published by local newspapers on Thursday that the disaster was "a symbol of our failure as a nation".

"The crack in Rana Plaza that caused the collapse of the building has only shown us that if we don't face up to the cracks in our state systems, we as a nation will get lost in the debris of the collapse,'' he added.

Western retailers

Mr Yunus also urged global fashion brands not to abandon the country, saying that garment factory workers subcontracted to produce their clothing should be seen as de facto employees.

Bangladesh has one of the largest garment industries in the world, and some of the clothes produced in the Rana Plaza building were made for Western retailers.

On Wednesday, Bangladesh announced the shut-down of 18 garment factories for safety reasons, amid growing concerns over the issue of industrial safety across the country.

A fire in a garment factory building in another part of the capital on Thursday killed eight people, including its owner, a senior police officer and a local politician.

The cause of the blaze is not yet known, but it began during the night, after the factories had closed for the day, and sent out smoke and gas that suffocated victims as they ran down stairs, officials said.