The death toll following the collapse of a building last month in Bangladesh has crossed 800, becoming the country’s worst-ever industrial disaster.
Rescuers are continuing to pull dozens of bodies from the rubble of the eight-storey building which collapsed outside the capital, Dhaka.
Officials overseeing the disaster operation said on Wednesday that a total of 2,437 people were rescued from the ruins of the building, which housed a total of five garment factories in Savar, a suburb of the capital.
“The death toll now stands at 803,” with 790 bodies recovered from the wreckage and 13 victims who died in hospital, said Lieutenant Mir Rabbi, an official in the army control room set up to coordinate disaster relief efforts.
More than 3,000 garment workers were on shift when the Rana Plaza complex collapsed as they were turning out clothing for Western retailers such as Britain’s Primark and the Spanish label Mango.
Cranes and bulldozers kept clearing debris as relief workers drawn from the army and fire service wore masks to ward off the smell of decomposing bodies.
Brigadier General Siddiqul Alam Sikder told the AFP news agency the stench of bodies trapped in the lower floors and under beams indicated the death toll would rise.
“We’re expecting to find some bodies because we still haven’t reached the bottom. We’ve finished around 70 percent of the job,” he said.
Efforts to identify bodies were being hampered by their decomposition of bodies, officials added.
Many bodies were found in the staircases after panicked garment workers had raced to stairwells in a rush to get out of the building after hearing a loud noise, but the compound collapsed within five minutes, trapping them.
“We got around 150 bodies from the stairs,” Sidker said.
Preliminary findings of a government probe have blamed vibrations from four giant generators on the compound’s upper floors for triggering the collapse.
The building’s architect, Masood Reza, told AFP he designed the structure to house a shopping mall and offices, not the hefty weight of factory machinery and large workforces.
Police have arrested 12 people ,including the plaza’s owner and four garment factory owners, for forcing people to work on the day of the tragedy, even though cracks had appeared in the structure the previous day.
The government announced a new high-level panel on Monday to inspect thousands of garment plants for building flaws.
The collapse was the latest in a string of deadly accidents to hit the textile industry which forms 80 percent of the country’s exports.
A factory fire last November killed 111 garment workers.