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Toll in Bangladesh building collapse climbs to 275

Friday - 4/26/2013, 2:44am  ET

Bangladeshi rescue workers watch from a damaged section of a wall at the site of a building that collapsed Wednesday in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, Thursday, April 25, 2013. By Thursday, the death toll reached at least 194 people as rescuers continued to search for injured and missing, after a huge section of an eight-story building that housed several garment factories splintered into a pile of concrete. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

JULHAS ALAM
Associated Press

SAVAR, Bangladesh (AP) -- "Save us, brother. I beg you, brother," Mohammad Altab moaned to the rescuers who could not help him. He was pinned between slabs of concrete in the ruins of the garment factory building where he worked.

"I want to live," he pleaded, his eyes glistening with tears as he spoke of his two young children. "It's so painful here."

Altab should not have been in the building when it collapsed Wednesday, killing at least 275 people.

No one should have.

After seeing deep cracks in the walls of the building on Tuesday, police had ordered it evacuated. But officials at the garment factories operating inside ignored the order and kept more than 2,000 people working, authorities said.

The disaster in Savar, an industrial suburb of Dhaka, the capital city, is the worst ever for Bangladesh's booming and powerful garment industry, surpassing a fire five months ago that killed 112 people and brought widespread pledges to improve the country's worker-safety standards.

Instead, very little has changed in Bangladesh, where wages, among the lowest in the world, have made it a magnet for numerous global brands. Companies operating in the collapsed building say their customers included retail giants such as Wal-Mart, Dress Barn and Britain's Primark.

On Friday, hundreds of rescuers, some crawling through the maze of rubble in search of survivors and corpses, spent a third day working amid the cries of the trapped and the wails of workers' relatives gathered outside the Rana Plaza building, which housed numerous garment factories and a handful of other companies.

Rescuers on Thursday evening found 40 survivors trapped in a room on the fourth floor. Twelve were soon freed, and crews worked to get the others out safely, said Brig. Gen. Mohammed Siddiqul Alam Shikder, who is overseeing rescue operations. Crowds at the scene burst into applause as survivors were brought out, although no other details were immediately available.

An Associated Press cameraman who went into the rubble Thursday morning with rescue workers spoke briefly to Atlab, the man who pleaded to be saved. But the team was unable to free Atlab, who was trapped next to two corpses.

From deep inside the rubble, another survivor could be heard weeping as he called for help.

"We want to live, brother! It's hard to remain alive here. It would have been better to die than enduring such pain to live on. We want to live! Please save us," the man cried. It was not immediately clear if he or Atlab were among those later rescued.

After the cracks were reported, managers of a bank that had an office in the building evacuated their employees. The garment factories, though, kept working, ignoring the instructions of the local industrial police, said Mostafizur Rahman, a director of that police force.

Abdur Rahim, who worked on the fifth floor, said he and his co-workers had gone inside Wednesday morning despite seeing the cracks. He said a factory manager had assured people it was safe.

About an hour later, the building collapsed, and the next thing Rahim remembered was regaining consciousness outside.

Officials said they had made it very clear that the building needed to be evacuated.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association had also asked the factories to suspend their work.

"After we got the crack reports, we asked them to suspend work until further examination, but they did not pay heed," said Atiqul Islam, the group's president.

As crews bored deeper into the wreckage, the odor of decaying bodies wafted through the building. Bangladesh's junior minister for home affairs, Shamsul Haque, said 2,000 people had been rescued.

Maj. Gen. Chowdhury Hasan Suhrawardy, a top military officer in the Savar area, told reporters that search and rescue operations would continue for at least three days after the collapse.

"We know a human being can survive for up to 72 hours in this situation. So our efforts will continue non-stop," he said.

Meanwhile, thousands of workers from the hundreds of garment factories across the Savar industrial zone took to the streets to protest the collapse and poor safety standards.

Shikder said the death toll had reached 275 by Friday morning. The garment manufacturers' group said the factories in the building employed 3,122 workers, but it was not clear how many were inside it when it collapsed.

Dozens of bodies, their faces covered, were laid outside a school building so relatives could identify them. Thousands gathered outside the building, waiting for news. TV reports said hundreds of protesters clashed with police in Dhaka and the nearby industrial zone of Ashulia. It was not immediately clear if there were any injuries in those clashes.

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