The stench of decaying bodies filled the air around the ruins of Rana Plaza with the death toll reaching 381 yesterday, the fifth day into the building’s collapse.
Rescuers refrained from employing heavy equipment to remove the debris after confirming that four people — three men and a woman named Shahana — were still alive under the wreckage.
But the efforts to rescue Shahana were hindered due to a fire that broke out around 10:00pm when a rescuer was cutting a steel bar to pull her out, Shahinul Islam, director of Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), told reporters at around 11:00pm.
The rescuers had to retreat from the part of the wreckage where the fire broke out. The fire-fighters doused the flames within 10 minutes.
Earlier, Shahana was provided with food, water and oxygen after the rescuers located her. But it was not possible to rescue her, as part of her body got stuck in the wreckage, said Shahinul.
“We don’t know her condition, but pray for a miracle,” he said.
Shahana, who is from Kushtia, is the mother of a one-and-a-half year old boy.
The rescuers started using heavy equipment last night to remove the ruins of Rana Plaza, nearly 110 hours after its collapse.
Two hydraulic cranes that were brought to the site a few days ago were put to use around 11.45pm, as the chances of finding more survivors under the wreckage became very slim, said Brig Gen Azmal Kabir of army engineering core.
“We will carry out this operation very carefully so that we can rescue more survivors if there are any,” he told reporters.
One of the cranes is being used for cutting pillars and the other for removing them.
Meanwhile, another person was pulled out of the wreckage alive around 12:00noon, taking the number of people rescued so far to 2,437.
The survivor, QMA Sadique, a quality inspector of a garment factory, was working on the second floor when the building collapsed.
Rana Plaza that housed five readymade garment factories caved in on Wednesday. The factory owners forced several thousand workers to return to work though cracks had appeared in the building’s pillars the previous day.
Rescuers fear that many dead are still trapped in the ruins of the nine-storey building.
Earlier, an army officer involved in the rescue operation said, “The four people are trapped on the third floor, around 40 feet away from a tunnel we dug on the collapsed building. It was almost impossible for an average person to crawl through the two by two feet opening. We had to find a lanky rescue worker to do the job.”
“Intense heat and the stench of decaying bodies made conditions unbearable inside the tunnel. The rescuer took with him an oxygen pipe, biscuits and water for the trapped persons. At one point, a huge beam obstructed him. There was no way through.”
“On the other side of the beam, he could hear the voices of the men and the woman. He desperately looked for a small opening to slip through the things he carried with him. He then found a small hole under the beam, and he slipped the oxygen pipe, biscuits and water through it.”
By the evening, the hope of rescuing all of them alive dimmed, as only the female survivor could communicate with the rescuers.
In the afternoon, another army officer said the rescue team was bringing cutters to slice the top floor into small slabs. “We will use our huge cranes to remove them one by one.”
So far the rescuers had been using small tools, for fear the use of heavy machines might lead to further collapse.
Additional reporting by Helemul Alam and Belal Hossain Biplob