The death toll in Bangladesh’s worst industrial disaster has soared past 1,000 after more bodies were found in the rubble of a collapsed building outside the capital, Dhaka.
The “death toll now stands at 1,006” as the recovery operation entered its 17th day since the building caved in at Savar town, army spokesman Captain Shahnewaz Zakaria told the AFP news agency on Friday.
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Some of the bodies, which are badly decomposed, could be identified by mobile phones in their pockets or factory identity cards around their neck, he said.
“Of the total dead, most are female garment workers.”
Of the bodies recovered so far, “at least 150 bodies were buried in unmarked graves in a state graveyard after they could not be identified,” Zakaria added.
The authorities are taking DNA samples from all the victims for future compensation claims.
More than 3,000 garment workers were in the building’s five garment factories which made clothing for Western retailers such as Benetton, Mango and Primark when the structure collapsed after a loud bang, trapping them.
At least 2,437 people have been rescued, around 1,000 suffering serious injuries, including scores whose limbs had to be cut off to free them from the rubble.
Preliminary findings of a government probe have blamed vibrations by four giant generators on the compound’s upper floors for triggering the collapse.
The building’s architect told AFP he designed the structure to house a shopping mall and offices, not factories.
Police have arrested twelve people including the plaza’s owner and four garment factory owners for forcing people to work on April 24, even though cracks appeared in the structure the previous day.
Factory workers have held protests calling for tough punishment for those responsible for the disaster, and demanding improved safety regulations.
The collapse was the latest in a string of deadly accidents to hit the textile industry. A factory fire last November killed 111 garment workers.
On Thursday, a fire in another garment factory in the Bangladeshi capital killed eight people including its owner.
Unlike many other factories, the Tung Hai Sweater factory appeared to have conformed to building codes, an official said.
Fire is a common problem in the 4,500 garment factories in Bangladesh, with many operations based in buildings with sub-standard wiring.
Around 700 people have been killed in garment factory fires in the country since 2006, according to the Amsterdam-based Clean Clothes Campaign group.