Deaths rise above 300 in building collapse

With time running out to save workers still trapped in a collapsed garment factory building, rescuers dug through mangled metal and concrete Friday and found more survivors — but also more corpses that pushed the death toll past 300.

Wailing, angry relatives fought with police who held them back from the wrecked, eight-story Rana Plaza building, as search-and-rescue operations went on more than two days after the structure crumbled.

Amid the cries for help and the smell of decaying bodies, more than 40 survivors were found late Friday on some floors of the Rana Plaza, said fire service inspector Shafiqul Islam, who searched the remains of the building. Through holes in the structure, he gave them water and juice packs to combat dehydration in the stifling heat and humidity.

“They are alive, they are trapped, but most of them are safe. We need to cut through debris and walls to bring them out,” Islam said.

By Friday night, more than 80 had been rescued, officials said, but more dead were also discovered.

Shamim Islam, a volunteer who entered the collapsed building along with rescue workers, said he saw “many bodies inside.”

“I threw some water bottles through a hole, as there were some survivors, too,” he said.

The search will continue today, officials said. Many of the trapped workers were so badly hurt and weakened that they needed to be removed within a few hours, the rescuers said.

There were fears that even if unhurt, the survivors could be dehydrated, with daytime temperatures soaring to 95 degrees.

Hundreds of rescuers crawled through the rubble amid the cries of the trapped and the wails of workers’ relatives gathered outside the building, which housed numerous garment factories and a handful of other companies.

Brig. Gen. Mohammed Siddiqul Alam Shikder, who is overseeing rescue operations, said before the evening rescues that 2,200 people have been pulled out alive. 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 Wednesday in Savar, a suburb of Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka.

Military spokesman Shahin Islam told reporters that 304 bodies had been recovered so far.

Police cordoned off the site, pushing back thousands of bystanders and relatives after rescue workers complained the crowds were hampering their work.

Clashes broke out between the relatives and police, who used batons to disperse them. Police said 50 people were injured in the skirmishes.

Police say cracks in the Rana Plaza had led them to order an evacuation Tuesday, but the factories ignored the order and were operating when the building 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.

Police chief Mohammed Asaduzzaman said police and the government’s Capital Development Authority have filed negligence cases against the building owner, identified as Mohammed Sohel Rana.

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.

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.

Wal-Mart said none of its clothing had been authorized to be made in the facility, but it is investigating whether there was any unauthorized production.