Bangladesh factory collapse death toll hits 1,034

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 9, 2013 at 11:39 pm •  Published: May 9, 2013
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DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — 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.

Officials said 1,034 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.

It was not immediately clear what caused the fire, which began soon after the factory workers went home for the day and took three hours to bring under control. Mahmud speculated it might have originated in the factory's ironing section. Officials originally said the building also housed several floors of apartments, but later said it was just a factory.