DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — The death toll from the collapse of a building housing five garment factories has climbed to nearly 900, officials said Thursday, as authorities continue to search for more bodies two weeks after the worst garment manufacturing disaster in the world.
Authorities had recovered 892 bodies from the rubble as of Thursday morning, according to police officials overseeing the recovery of victims from the eight-story Rana Plaza building, located in a suburb of Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital.
Dozens of bodies recovered Wednesday were so decomposed they were being sent to a lab for DNA identification, police said.
Following protests, authorities also began disbursing salaries and other benefits to survivors of the collapse.
Also Wednesday, the European Union's delegation to Bangladesh urged the government to "act immediately" to improve working conditions. Authorities said the government has closed 18 garment factories in recent days for failing to meet work and safety standards.
There is no clear indication of how many bodies still remain trapped in the debris because the exact number of people inside the building at the time of the April 24 collapse is unknown. More than 2,500 people were rescued alive.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association earlier said 3,122 workers were employed at the five factories housed in the building, but it was not clear how many were there during the packed morning shift when it collapsed. Several stores and a bank were also in the building.
Maj. Gen. Chowdhury Hasan Suhrawardy, a top military official in the area, said the operation to recover bodies from the tangle of wreckage could continue for two to three more days before they would ask the local administration to take care of the site.
Suhrawardy said they had to send 36 decomposing bodies to Dhaka Medical College Hospital to collect DNA samples because they were beyond identification. Authorities expected to send more bodies for testing in the coming days, with temperatures in the high 80s Fahrenheit (low 30s Celsius) and rain pouring down.
The disaster is the worst ever in the garment sector, far surpassing fires last year that killed about 260 people in Pakistan and 112 in Bangladesh, as well as the 1911 garment disaster in New York's Triangle Shirtwaist factory that killed 146 workers.