At least 87 people were killed on Wednesday when an eight-story building housing several garment factories collapsed near the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka.
Rescuers tried to cut through the debris with earthmovers, drilling machines and their bare hands.
Less than five months after a factory fire killed 112 people, the disaster again underscored the unsafe conditions in Bangladesh’s massive garment industry.
Workers said they hesitated to go to work on Wednesday because the building had developed such severe cracks the previous day that it had been reported on local news channels.
Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir told reporters during a visit to the site that the building had violated construction codes and “the culprits would be punished.”
Among the businesses in the building were Phantom Apparels Ltd., New Wave Style Ltd., New Wave Bottoms Ltd. and New Wave Brothers Ltd., which make clothing for brands including Benetton, The Children’s Place and Dress Barn.
Workers said they didn’t know what specific clothing brands were being produced in the building because labels are attached after the products are finished.
Reports suggested the death toll was likely to rise.
Tens of thousands of people gathered at the site, some of them weeping survivors, some searching for family members.
Firefighters and soldiers using drilling machines and cranes worked with local volunteers in the search for survivors.
An enormous section of the concrete structure appeared to have splintered like twigs.
The building, in the Dhaka suburb of Savar, also housed a bank and shops.
Zahidur Rahman, director of public relations at Enam Medical College and Hospital, said that by Wednesday evening 87 people had been confirmed dead.
Brig. Gen. Mohammed Siddiqul Alam Shikder said 600 people had been rescued.
The November fire at the Tazreen garment factory drew international attention to working conditions in Bangladesh’s 20 (b) billion-US-dollar-a-year textile industry.
Tazreen lacked emergency exits and its owner said only three floors of the eight-story building were legally built.
Bangladesh has around 4,000 garment factories and exports clothes to leading Western retailers.
The industry wields vast power in the South Asian nation.
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