Published: Saturday, May 4, 2013

Savar death toll may shoot up

525 bodies recovered so far; rescuers see many bodies as they dig through debris

Johra Begum breaks down in tears after the body of her sister Momtaj was identified at Adhar Chandra High School playground in Savar yesterday. Momtaj was a victim of the Rana Plaza disaster.Photo: Firoz Ahmed

Johra Begum breaks down in tears after the body of her sister Momtaj was identified at Adhar Chandra High School playground in Savar yesterday. Momtaj was a victim of the Rana Plaza disaster.Photo: Firoz Ahmed

The death toll in the Rana Plaza disaster soared to 525 yesterday as heavy equipment continued to remove large chunks of rubble, only to discover bodies underneath.
Yesterday, 80 bodies were found, the highest found in a single day since the second phase of the rescue operation began on the night of April 28 with heavy equipment and sniffer dogs.
More bodies are thought to be buried under the debris of the nine-storey Rana Plaza and rescuers fear the toll could rise sharply as they go deeper into the pile of rubble.
The rescuers were seen removing the roof of the top floor yesterday using cranes. The concrete roof was being removed in sections.
Rana Plaza, which housed several garment factories, came crashing down on April 24 after owners forced several thousand workers to work there despite cracks having developed on some pillars and floors the day before. It is still unclear how many workers were there on that fateful day.
The building also had some shops but most of them were closed due to a hartal.
Yesterday morning, Maj Gen Chowdhury Hasan Suhrawardy, general officer commanding of Bangladesh Army’s Ninth Infantry Division, told reporters that the rescuers had found most bodies in places like staircases and passages which the workers tried to use to make their way out of the building.
He could not say how many bodies were still in the rubble. The bodies recovered yesterday morning were sent to Dhaka Medical College morgue, he added.
He said the bodies were being recovered with utmost respect to the deceased.
Some rescuers said they were pulling out bodies that had been severely decomposed and some were with missing limbs, making it very difficult for relatives to identify them. All bodies were first taken to Adhar Chandra High School playground for identification.
“I have seen around 60 bodies, but at least 15 of them had some limbs missing,” Faizul Muhit, an NGO official working as a volunteer, told The Daily Star.
District administration officials said the decomposed bodies had become hard to identify and there was an incident in which five to six families claimed one body. The unidentifiable bodies had been sent to morgues at Dhaka Medical College and Mitford Hospital.
Hasinul Islam, who received his younger sister Khadiza Begum’s body, said the rescuers called him on his mobile phone yesterday around noon from his sister’s phone number. “It was quite tough to identify my sister. She had a missing hand,” he told The Daily Star.
The district administration is handing over the bodies that had identity cards or mobile phones. Sometimes it hands over bodies only after getting correct descriptions of the victims from relatives.
Several hundred people were still at the school playground holding photographs of their loved ones still missing. A number of relatives who have been waiting for the last 10 days said they would not leave without bodies.
President Abdul Hamid visited the disaster site yesterday afternoon to see for himself the salvage operation. He went there at 4:05pm and spoke to the people involved in the operations.
He went to Enam Medical College Hospital before going to the site. The president also went to the Combined Medical Hospital in Savar.
Meanwhile, Jatiya Party Chairman HM Ershad visited the site yesterday. He said he would take care of the livelihood of female workers who had lost their legs in the tragedy.
The report was prepared with the help of Belal Hossain Biplob.