More than 500 bodies have been recovered from the Bangladesh garment-factory building that collapsed last week, authorities said.
The announcement came after police arrested an engineer who had warned that the building was unsafe but stands accused of helping the owner add three illegal floors to the structure.
The arrest on Friday of Rana Plaza consultant Adbur Razzak brought to nine the number of people held over the April 24 disaster, which has put the spotlight on the many Western clothing retailers who use Bangladesh as a source of cheap goods.
Bangladesh’s government has come under fire over its handling of the disaster, as relatives of those trapped in the rubble of the building in Savar, about 30km northwest of Dhaka, searched for family members without a central list to track the rescued or dead.
But as authorities said the confirmed death toll had risen to 501 on Friday, Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith said he did not think it was “really serious” and he did not believe that foreign retailers would pull orders from his country.
“It’s an accident, and the steps that we have taken in order to make sure that it doesn’t happen, they are quite elaborate and I believe that it will be appreciated by all,” Muhith said. “These are individual cases of …accidents. It happens everywhere.”
Major-General Chowdhury Hassan Suhwardy, the commander of the area’s army garrison supervising the rescue operation, said that workers were carefully using cranes to remove the concrete rubble to recover bodies intact.
Dozens remained buried in the ruins and there was a real possibility that some of the victims would never be traced.
|Many bodies have been buried unidentified [Al Jazeera]|
Jahid Sheik had searched from dawn until midnight daily for his 18-year-old daughter, Amena Khatun, who worked on the building’s second floor.
“There has been no help from officials,” the 40-year-old said.
Police said on Friday that they had charged Khan with negligence because he was the Rana Plaza owner’s consultant when the three floors atop the five-story building were illegally added.
Owner Mohammed Sohel Rana, who has been arrested over the disaster, called Khan to inspect the building after it developed cracks on April 23, local media have reported.
That night Khan appeared on a private television station saying that after his inspection he told Rana to evacuate the building because it was not safe.
The former engineer at Jahangirnagar University, near Savar, said that he drew the attention of the government engineers for the building to be examined further.
Police ordered the building evacuated, but witnesses said Rana had told people gathered outside the next morning that the building was safe and that the garment managers of the factory which supplies global retailers told their workers to go inside. It collapsed hours later.
The elected mayor of Savar municipality, Mohammad Refatullah, has been suspended for alleged negligence in approving the design and layout of the doomed building, said Abu Alam, a top official of the local government ministry.
Alam said that an official investigation had found that the mayor, who is from main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), had ignored rules in approving the design and layout.
But the BNP criticised the suspension as politically motivated.