The death toll from a garment factory building that collapsed more than two weeks ago near the Bangladeshi capital has soared past 1,000, with no end in sight to the stream of bodies being pulled from the wreckage.
Officials said 1,038 bodies had been recovered from the rubble of the fallen building, which had housed five garment factories employing thousands of workers.
The disaster has raised alarm about the often deadly working conditions in Bangladesh’s garment industry, which provides clothing for major retailers around the globe.
“We are trying to cut through the basement floor. This is very hard. More bodies are coming out,” said Brig Gen Mohammed Siddiqul Alam Shikder, an army official overseeing the recovery work. “We will need more time to complete as we are trying to recover more bodies.”
He said the bodies being recovered are badly decomposed and identification is difficult.
“We are working carefully,” he said. “If we get any ID card or mobile phone with them, we can still identify them. Our sincere effort is to at least hand over the bodies to the families.
Brig Gen Azmal Kabir, a top official with the military’s engineering section, said more than half of the estimated 7,000 tons of debris have been removed from the site but he did not know when the work would be finished.
The country’s powerful garment industry was struck by more tragedy late on Wednesday night, when a fire in a sweater factory that had closed for the day killed eight people, including a senior police officer, a Bangladeshi politician and a top clothing industry official.
Unlike the collapse at the Rana Plaza building on April 24, which was blamed on shoddy construction and disregard for safety regulations, the Tung Hai Sweater factory appeared to have conformed to building codes. A top fire official said the deaths there were caused by panic and bad luck.
The fire engulfed the lower floors of the 11-storey factory, which had closed for the day. The smoldering acrylic products produced immense amounts of smoke and poison gas and the victims suffocated as they ran down the stairs.
The dead included the factory’s managing director, Mahbubur Rahman, who was also on the board of directors of the powerful Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
Since workers had gone home, the toll was likely far lower than it could have been. A November fire at the Tazreen garment factory killed 112 people.