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Bangladesh factory collapse death toll passes 1,000

By Friday, May 10, the death toll from the Bangladesh factory collapse had reached 1,021, and more bodies are still being found. A fire at a nearby sweater factory highlighted that safety conditions in Bangladesh factories have not been improved in the two weeks since the factory collapse.

By Julhas AlamAssociated Press / May 9, 2013

Rescue workers sort out belongings retrieved from the bodies of victims, Thursday, May 9. The eight-story Rana Plaza building collapsed two weeks ago in Savar, near Dhaka, causing the deaths of at least 1,021 people. The nearby fire in an 11-story garment factory Wednesday night killed eight people, including a ruling-party politician and a top official in the country's powerful clothing manufacturers' trade group.

Ismail Ferdous / AP

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DHAKA, Bangladesh

The death toll from a garment factory building that collapsed more than two weeks ago outside the Bangladeshi capital soared past 1,000 on Friday, while the list of the dead from a fresh fire at a sweater manufacturer showed the entanglement of the industry and top Bangladeshi officials.

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Officials said 1,021 bodies have been recovered from the rubble of the fallen factory building as of Friday morning. There was no sign of where the toll might finally settle as more bodies were being found, but it is already the world's deadliest garment industry disaster and one of the worst industrial accidents.

The disaster has raised alarm about the often deadly working conditions in Bangladesh's $20 billion garment industry, which provides clothing for major retailers around the globe.

Unlike the collapse at the Rana Plaza building, which was blamed on shoddy construction and disregard for safety regulations, the fire at the Tung Hai Sweater factory appeared to have conformed to building codes. A top fire official said the deaths in Wednesday night's fire — including a senior police officer, a Bangladeshi politician and a top clothing industry official — were caused by panic and bad luck.

"They are really unfortunate," Mamun Mahmud, deputy director of the fire service, said Thursday.

The fire engulfed the lower floors of the 11-story factory, which had closed for the day. The smoldering acrylic products produced immense amounts of smoke and poison gas and the victims suffocated as they ran down the stairs, Mahmud said.

The building appeared on first inspection to have been properly built, though fire inspectors would conduct further checks, he said. It had two stairwells in the front and an emergency exit in the back, he said. Those inside probably panicked when they saw smoke and ran into one of the front stairwells, he said. Had they used the emergency stairwell, they would have survived, he said.

"Apparently they tried to flee the building through the stairwell in fear that the fire had engulfed the whole building," he said.

They also would have likely survived the slow-spreading fire had they stayed on the upper floors, he said.

"We found the roof open, but we did not find there anybody after the fire broke out. We recovered all of them on the stairwell on the ninth floor," he said.

The dead included the factory's managing director, Mahbubur Rahman, who was also on the board of directors of the powerful Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association. Along with him was senior police official Z.A. Morshed and Sohel Mostafa Swapan, head of a local branch of the ruling party's youth league.

Independent TV, a local station, reported that Rahman had plans to contest next year's parliamentary elections as a candidate for the ruling party and had been meeting friends to discuss his future when the fire broke out.

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