Bangladesh building collapse death toll passes 500


Bangladeshi relatives look at dead bodies after a building collapse in Savar, on the outskirts of Dhaka, on April 24, 2013.


Munir uz Zaman

The number of people killed when a factory building collapsed near the Bangladeshi capital last week is now more than 500, the army said Friday.

Another 70 bodies were pulled overnight from the rubble of the Rana Plaza building in Savar, on the outskirts of Dhaka, bringing the total death toll from the disaster to at least 511.

Many of the roughly 3,000 people at work in the building's five garment factories when it collapsed are still missing. After a week and a half, the hopes of finding any of them alive are slim.

The disaster is now confirmed to be the deadliest of its kind in Bangladesh, or the world, in recent history. Yet Bangladeshi officials have downplayed the incident, with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina telling CNN: "Anywhere in the world, any accident can take place."

Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith also defended Bangladesh's safety standards. "I don't think it is really serious — it's an accident," he said Friday. "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."

The government is keen to avoid seeing Western companies withdraw their custom from Bangladesh's garment industry, which supplies cheaply made clothes to hundreds of European and American retailers.

Hasina has ordered the formation of a committee to investigate workplace safety, she told CNN, insisting that "we have been trying our best to improve the situation."

The official investigation into the collapse blames substandard building materials and the lack of proper fortications in a structure where heavy machinery was constantly in use. 

Nine people have been arrested in connection with the disaster, including the building's owner and four men who ran garment factories inside it.

An engineer who inspected the structure the day before it collapsed was detained on Thursday night. Abdur Razzak Khan insists that he warned the building was at risk when large cracks appeared, though Dhaka police say he told the owner that employees could continue to work in it.