The scale of the suffering wrought by the collapse of an eight-storey building in Bangladesh became clearer on Monday when it emerged that almost 1,300 people could have died.
By Dean Nelson, New Delhi and David Bergman in Dhaka and David
Police said that around 900 were still missing presumed dead in the rubble of Rana Plaza, where the rescue effort has been called off. The official death toll from last Wednesday’s disaster stands at 384; the figure for the number of missing suggests the final total could be more than three times higher.
Thousands were inside Rana Plaza when it suddenly collapsed, including workers at four garment factories, one of which was supplying the British retailers Primark and Bonmarche.
Masum Khan, from the police control room responsible for compiling the death toll, said that 330 bodies had been identified so far. Another 52 had not yet been named. “There is not an accurate figure for the missing but the estimate is 900. This is based on collection from various voluntary associations,” he said.
There is no record of who was inside the building when it collapsed, making it impossible to calculate an exact figure for those unaccounted for. Sultan Ahmed, Assistant Director of the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies, said the scale of the loss was “beyond comment” and warned of social unrest if workplace safety was not given a higher priority.
Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister, visited the scene of the disaster for the first time on Monday, five days after it took place.
Primark, the bargain retailer with 161 branches in Britain, promised to compensate the victims who worked for its supplier.
“This will include the provision of long-term aid for children who have lost parents, financial aid for those injured and payments to the families of the deceased,” said the company.
Bonmarche, which has 360 British stores and also bought supplies from a factory inside the ruined building, did not say whether it would follow suit. Both companies have previously promised to ensure the safety of the workforce of their Bangladeshi suppliers. But Primark and Bonmarche have not yet made clear what additional steps they propose to take in the aftermath of this disaster.
Benetton, the Italian fashion house, denied last week buying supplies from any factory inside Rana Plaza. After the discovery of clothes bearing its label in the rubble, however, Benetton changed its position. On Monday, the company said: “There was a one-time order that was placed with one of these manufacturers and that order was completed and shipped a month ago.”
The Bangladeshi government officially rejected offers from Britain and the United Nations to help with the rescue effort straight after the disaster took place. Ahmed Ali, the national fire chief, said the government had authorised him to accept foreign equipment – but not personnel.
“The ministry of disaster management said that if some country can give us equipment without manpower, then we could just take the equipment. But I told them that this would waste time as if we got equipment without manpower, we would need to be trained to use the equipment,” he said.