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Bangladeshi Rescuers Continue Search Through Building Rubble


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. A frantic search for survivors continues near Dhaka, Bangladesh, where an eight-story building collapsed two days ago. The building mostly housed garment factories that make low-cost clothing for Western customers.

At least 300 people are dead, and hundreds more are trapped. Anbarasan Ethirajan has been covering the tragedy for the BBC, and we have him on the line. And if you could, describe the scene there at this mall-factory complex as it is right now.

ANBARASAN ETHIRAJAN: As of now, only the ground floor remains intact. The remaining floors came crashing down, trapping hundreds of people who were working in this building on Wednesday morning. Dozens of rescue workers have been working for the third consecutive day trying to pull out people from the rubble.

Cranes, diggers and people are using even bare hands to remove these concrete blocks and cut the iron rods to save people who are still trapped. Now, more than 1,500 people are injured. They were rescued from this site.

There are still hundreds of people waiting outside this building site. These are the relatives of those who were working inside this building. They're waiting for some kind of information about their loved ones who are inside this building.

MONTAGNE: Now, we've heard that cracks were visible in the building's walls the day before the collapse, but that some of these garment factories ordered their employees to come to work anyway. Why?

ETHIRAJAN: I spoke to a number of survivors, as well as officials, and this is what they have been saying, that cracks had developed on the block a day before this incident, and the owner of this building was informed about this. But then he told them, now, no need to worry about safety. They can go back to work on the next day.

However, the bank which was housed in this building, the bank employees did not go on Wednesday, fearing the safety standards in this building. But factory workers, they don't have any other choice. One of the survivors was telling us that one of the supervisors told the workers if you don't come to work, then you might lose your wages.

So they had to go back to work the next day, even though they had reservations about safety standards of the building.

MONTAGNE: So the workers themselves were concerned, but they went to work anyway. And partly, what, the pressure on the owners of these factories is Western clothing companies that have very intense deadlines to get these garments out to them?

ETHIRAJAN: That's what many factory owners would say, that they are getting increasing orders from many Western retailers, especially the low-end, low-cost clothing comes from Bangladesh. In recent years, Bangladesh has emerged as the world's second-largest exporter of ready-made clothes. You can describe it as the world's tailoring shop.

Last year, it exported more than $20 billion worth of clothes. And this country has been witnessing political crisis for the last few months. There have been a number of (unintelligible) strikes, which means the garment factory owners won't be able to send the shipments to their clients in Europe or the U.S. on time.

So that has also added pressure to the factory owners.

MONTAGNE: I'm wondering how the government is responding now to this collapse of this building. It comes just months after a terrible fire in another Bangladeshi garment factory. And what, there are thousands of people now out on the streets, garment workers, to protest this and these other disasters?

ETHIRAJAN: Thousands of workers have been protesting in the industrial suburban areas. They're very angry. They want answers. The government says that it will take action against those responsible for this building collapse. But soon after the November fire, the government set up a taskforce, and they found out that many factories were lacking in safety standards.

But the government should have the will to carry out the rules and regulations. On the other side, the garment factory owners are also very influential in this country, because nearly 80 percent of the country's exports come from garments. So the government is also not really putting pressure on the factory owners here.

MONTAGNE: Anbarasan Ethirajan is a reporter in Dhaka, Bangladesh for the BBC. Thanks very much for joining us.

ETHIRAJAN: Thanks very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.