Vol. 5 Num 312 Tue. April 12, 2005  
Front Page

9-storey Garment Building Crumbles at Savar
23 killed, 350 trapped

At least 23 people died and some 350 others are trapped, many of them feared buried alive, under debris after a nine-storey factory building at Savar crumbled with a bang in the early hours of yesterday.

As many as 89 others were pulled alive from underneath the rubble of the building, which housed Spectrum Sweater Industries Ltd, with authorities saying the building's construction on a filled-in pond was faulty.

The victims were employees of the sweater factory and working on the night shift.

Rescuers from the Fire Service, the Army, Rab (Rapid Action Battalion), as well as police and civilians pulled the 89 alive and dug out 22 bodies until 1:15am today. The body of the other victim, Aleya, could not be retrieved although rescue work ran early into the morning under search light.

They feared that more bodies would emerge when the one-storey-high rubble is cleared and termed it the biggest ever such collapse in the country. The dead have been identified as Rafiq, Mamtaz, Nazrul, Zakir Hossain, Nur Alam, Rubel, Kader, Kalam, Jewel, Rafiqul Islam, Monirul Islam, Nesaruddin, Razzak, Rakibul, Shahin Quddus, Al Mamun Palash, Gafur, Shahid, Kayes, Saikat, Zahir, Aleya and Harun.

The rescue effort will take at least a couple of days, said the rescuers, who are trying to save those struggling to breathe under the huge wreckage. The feeble voices of those trapped inside could be heard when rescuers were pumping oxygen late last night.

The accident occurred when the employees were working the night shift on three floors of the nine-storey factory, which was constructed three years ago on 26 decimals of land at Baipail near Nabinagar-Kaliakoir road in Savar industrial town.

"No fewer than 450 workers were inside the building when it started going down at around 12:45am," Ismail Hossain, knitting in-charge of the day shift of the factory, told The Daily Star.

"I heard a big sound and rushed to the eastern side to find the building was crumbling like a house of cards," said Mostafa, an electrician of the factory, who went out to take tea at a nearby tea-stall. "I yelled out to alert the people inside but do not know if they had heard me," he said.

About 25 people who were on the ground floor managed to run out of the factory, witnesses said.

"At first I thought it was an earthquake. But when I rushed out, I saw dust was rising up and other things were falling as the building was going down," said Rafiqul, a knitting employee who had gone to the ground floor and dodged a possible death.

"We saw the entire building breaking down right before our eyes and heard those who were trapped crying out," he said, putting the number of the trapped at about 350.

Four on-duty security guards -- Shamsul Alam, Ramjan, Anowar and Samrat Alam -- were sleeping on the ground floor and did not come out of the building.

Locals rushed to the building immediately after the cave-in and started rescue efforts. On information from patrol police, fire fighters from Savar rushed to the scene at 1:05am, joined by Police, Rab and army personnel at 3:00am. But the narrow streets were hampering reaching rescue equipment to the site, rescuers said.

Rescuers were using welding equipment to cut through the rubble to try to reach trapped victims and to pump air to anyone who might be alive. Anxious relatives joined the Army and Rab men and firefighters and used their bare hands and crowbars to sift through the rubble.

The fire fighters used rotary saw, tripping hands, drill, spader, reciprocating saw and other instruments to rescue those trapped .

Medical teams of Orthopaedics Hospital, Gonoshasthya Medical College, Enam Medical College and Hospital, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association-UNFP medical team, Dhaka Civil Surgeon's Office, Savar Health Complex, Dhamrai Health Complex and Bangladesh Scouts reached the spot to treat the injured.

Several ambulances were on stand by for taking the injured to the hospital.

The rescuers cut a hole in the wall of the building to bring out the trapped as hundreds of waiting relatives kept their fingers crossed.

Earlier, the law enforcers sealed off the area as scores of relatives were waiting outside for news of their near and dear ones.

The relatives had been conducting rescue efforts themselves since early yesterday morning, until the law enforcers drove them off at around 8:00am.

Rab men set up a control room on the southern side of the building, where relatives were directed to contact them.

Only 83 of the missing were listed by relatives.

The rescuers said the equipment is not enough for the rescue work. "If we had a tower crane, we could have removed the debris quickly," said Porimal Chandra Kundu, a fire brigade instructor.

"Although the expertise of the army, police, fire brigade and Rab has been put in, it is not enough for such a massive work," a Rab colonel engaged in the rescue work told The Daily Star.

"We don't have the experience and equipment needed for such a massive operation," Deputy Director of Fire Service Elahi Newaj Bhuiyan told reporters.

Officials of the Fire Service co-ordinating the rescue work said the rescue operations were slower than expected because the owner of the factory was not co-operating.

"If the owners give us the building plan, it would be easier for us to remove the rubble and pull out the trapped," said Rajuk Chief Engineer Emdadul Islam.

"Our first priority is to rescue those who are still alive under the rubble. We will try to bring out the others later," Colonel Iqbal Hossain, who was supervising the army rescuers, told The Daily Star.

The dog squad was engaged in the rescue operations in the afternoon, he said.

Rescuers dug a hole in the wreckage to supply oxygen to the trapped.

Director General of Fire Service Rafiqur Rahman said, "We're trying to pump oxygen into the building. We will take all necessary measures to keep the trapped alive."

The rescuers were preparing to spread a cover over the debris to protect the site from being rained away. "They (trapped workers) are already suffering from lack of water and food and would die if water washes them," said a Rab officer.

The rescuers said they would cut the limbs, if needed, to save the trapped.

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia visited the scene at 3:30pm yesterday to see the rescue operation and to console the victims' families. She also directed the authorities to gear up the rescue operations and ensure adequate treatment for the injured.

Khaleda later went to the Combined Military Hospital to see 12 of the injured there.

Earlier, Commerce Minister Altaf Hossain Choudhury, State Minister for Home Lutfozzaman Babar, Inspector General of Police M Hadisuddin Ahmed, Rab Director General Anwarul Iqbal and Local MP Dewan Mohammad Salahuddin visited the spot.

President Iajuddin Ahmed, Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and Leader of the Opposition in Parliament Sheikh Hasina have expressed their profound shock at the loss of lives and property in the building collapse.

Civil engineers blamed faulty design and construction for the building collapse.

"The building did not have Rajuk's approval," Chairman of Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha Shahid Alam told The Daily Star on the scene.

"It is not properly designed and constructed. Its construction materials and structure do not match the requirement of a nine-story building." He added that the building did not have the right foundation for an establishment in such a low-lying area.

Some law-enforcers at the site, however, said the explosion of a boiler on the ground floor triggered the collapse. A top officer of the factory told The Daily Star on condition of anonymity that the boiler exploded after the power was snapped.

"After the building started going down and the upper floors crumbled, the power line was cut off and the boiler exploded. But the explosion by no means caused the collapse; it occurred well after the subsiding started," he said.

Talking to The Daily Star, Masud Rana, a civil engineer of Dhaka Export Processing Zone, said, showing some pieces of rubble: "See these materials, these are not supposed to be used in the construction of a nine-storied building."

The pillars and rods of the building cannot take the load of such a big structure, he added.

Rajuk has formed a five-member team headed by its Member Nasir Uddin to investigate the incident. The committee will submit a report in three days.

The state minister for home has promised compensation for the victims.

"We will consider compensation and put pressure on the owner of the factory to compensate the victims," he said.

Advocate Mahbubur Rahman, father-in-law of factory owner Shahriar Sayeed Hossain, told The Daily Star last night that Shahriar would compensate the victims.

"He (Shariar) will pay Tk 5,000 for the burial of each victim, Tk 10,000 to the family of each of the dead and Tk 5,000 for treatment of each injured," he said.

Rescuers sift through the rubble to pull workers trapped under the remains of what was a nine-storey building at Savar early yesterday morning. PHOTO: SK Enamul Haq