Two of the businessmen operating a clothing factory at the collapsed Bangladeshi complex were arrested yesterday as the number of deaths caused by the disintegration of the shoddy and illegally constructed building rose to at least 352, many of them women. A further 29 survivors were rescued on Saturday, and officials in Dhaka estimated more people are – just – alive in the precarious rubble. Hundreds of workers are still unaccounted for.
Angry protests broke out in two Bangladeshi cities yesterday, and cars were turned over and set alight. There was anger, too, in London, where protesters rallied outside the Oxford Street branch of Primark, one of the Western firms that sell, at low prices, garments made at the factory.
The arrested men are Balzul Samad Adnan and Mahbubur Rahman Tapas, managing director and chairman respectively of New Wave Apparels Ltd, the firm operating the largest of the factories in the Rana Plaza building. Two engineers apparently connected with its construction were also being questioned. The owner of the building, Mohammed Sohel Rana, has gone on the run, and his wife has been detained, as much to try and smoke him out than for any information she might have.
Fresh details emerged yesterday of the negligence, and possible corruption, involved in the erection and extension of the building. Emdadul Islam, chief engineer of the state-run Capital Development Authority, said the owner of the building had not received the proper building consent, and obtained a permit for a five-storey building from the local municipality, which did not have authority to grant it. An official involved in this was yesterday in hiding.
Another three storeys were then added illegally. Mr Islam also said that the area containing the Rana Plaza building "is not an industrial zone, and for that reason no factory can be housed there". Furthermore, the building had been erected on the site of a pond filled in with sand and earth, which, said Mr Islam, meant its foundations were too weak. He added: "There were three big and very heavy generators that shook the whole building when they were operating. On that day the generators were being used and within seconds the building collapsed."
Police say they ordered an evacuation of the building on Tuesday after cracks were found, but the factories ignored the order and were operating when it collapsed the next day. Video before the collapse shows cracks in walls, with apparent attempts at repair. It also shows columns missing chunks of concrete and police talking to building operators. There was frantic activity amid the debris yesterday as soldiers, police and medical workers in lab coats worked to extricate the trapped.
Rescuers passed bottles of water and small cylinders of oxygen up a ladder leaning against the side of the building to be given to possible survivors inside. Teams went in from seven entry points gouged into the rubble, and, armed with hammers, handheld concrete cutters and drills, they chipped away at a large slab of concrete, brick and steel rods that was once a factory floor. An excavator moved in, dragging away and lifting up the debris.
Other rescuers used their hands or shovels, passing chunks of brick and concrete down a human chain. Every once in a while a badly decomposed body would be brought out, covered in cloth and plastic, to a spot where ambulances were parked. Workers furiously sprayed air-fresheners on the bodies to cover the stench, leaving the air thick with the smell of death and cheap perfume.
The toll is expected to rise as a large portion of the crumbled building is still untouched, and heavy equipment will be needed to remove the debris to recover the bodies. The bodies are being kept at a makeshift morgue at a school before being handed over to families. Many people milled around the school, waving photos of their missing loved ones.
With the death toll standing at 352, a military spokesman, Shahinul Islam, said 2,419 survivors were accounted for. Some 3,122 people were employed there, but it is not known how many were working in the building at the time it collapsed.
The minimum wage for clothing factory workers in the country is $38 a month (£24.50).