Bangladesh Building Death Toll Passes 650

//

The death toll from Bangladesh's worst industrial disaster surpassed 650 Monday after dozens of bodies were pulled from the wreckage of a nine-story building housing garment factories, the army said.

Major Manzur Elahi of the army control room, which was set up to coordinate the rescue operation following the disaster last month, told AFP that recovery efforts had gathered pace and the "death toll now stands at 654".

"The toll is expected to rise further," he said.

The 10 Most Exciting Rescues in History

The building, which housed five garment factories, collapsed near the capital Dhaka on April 24, trapping more than 3,000 people. Some 2,437 people have been rescued, Elahi said.

Hundreds of distraught relatives gathered at the site on the 12th day, as cranes and bulldozers cut through a mountain of concrete and mangled steel.

Officials said the bodies pulled out have missing limbs in some cases or have decomposed, delaying identification. They identified only a handful of them by their mobile phones that were found in their pockets or factory identity cards.

Military rescuer Major Delwar Hossain late Sunday told AFP the stench at the site suggested more corpses were trapped under the rubble, forcing search teams from the army and fire services to wear masks.

"The foul odor is so strong you cannot work there without wearing masks and using air fresheners," Hossain said.

Preliminary findings of a government probe have blamed vibrations by four giant generators on the compound's upper floors for triggering the collapse.

Police have arrested 12 people including the building's owner Sohel Rana and four garment factory owners for forcing people to work on April 24, even though cracks appeared in the structure the previous day.

VIDEO: Murder is Infectious

The wife of a male garment worker killed in the disaster has also filed a murder complaint against Rana, one of the garment factory owners and a municipal engineer. The three face death by hanging if convicted of murder.

Rana, a local leader of the ruling Awami League political party, was arrested after a four-day hunt as he tried to flee to India.

Factory workers have held protests calling for tough punishment for those responsible for the disaster, and demanding improved safety regulations.

The tragedy came just five months after a fire killed 111 people in a nearby garment factory.

UK retailer Primark, Italy's Benetton and Spanish firm Mango have admitted they had placed orders with the factories based in the compound, triggering an angry response in many Western countries.

Bangladesh is the world's second-largest garment exporter after China. The industry accounts for 80 percent of the country's exports and more than 40 percent of its industrial workforce.