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Rana Plaza death toll reaches 258

Rescuers short of equipment, authorities say use of heavy equipment after 72 hours

Taib Ahmed, Hasanul Banna and Rashad Ahmad . Savar

Rescuers carry on a salvage operation using torch-lights inside the rubble of Rana Plaza that collapsed at Savar on Thursday. — Sanaul HaqueRescuers carry on a salvage operation using torch-lights inside the rubble of Rana Plaza that collapsed at Savar on Thursday. — Sanaul Haque

The death toll from the building collapse at Savar rose on Thursday to 258 with about two thousand survivors rescued by the afternoon. Rescuers and local people feared that about a thousand were still trapped inside the rubble.
Nine-storey Rana Plaza that house five apparel factories, a shopping mall and a bank, collapsed about 9:00am on Wednesday on another bordering building after cracks had been spotted in Rana Plaza the previous day.
The apparel manufacturers’ association earlier said that there were more than 3,500 people working in the building at the time of the collapse.
The additional police superintendent of Savar circle, Moshiuddowlah Reza, who is keeping the tally of the dead bodies in Adharchandra High School ground, after midnight past Thursday said that the death figure had reached 258 and the toll could be rising. Two hundred and thirteen bodies were handed over to families after identification.
The death toll was rising every moment till Thursday with the rescue work going on manually.
Troops and fire fighters rescuing people from the building said they could launch a ‘massive operation for strategic reasons.’
They said that they would go for ‘a massive operation’ 48 to 72 hours after the incident as they said they could not speed up their work because of the precarious situation the survivors were in.
Several hundred volunteers, troops and fire fighters were conducting the rescue operation. The number of civilian volunteers has outnumbered the troops and fire fighters.
Rescuers, who were working with small equipment such as iron rod cutters and hammers, said that lack of adequate equipment for such operation was hampering their work.
Several hundred volunteers were also sending supplies such as oxygen, water, air fresheners and clothes inside the wreckage through holes as the people who were still alive could not breathe properly because of the air reeking with stench coming from the dead bodies that started decomposing.
Many of the volunteers said that they were not getting adequate supplies. Some of them were holding up placards standing on the debris that read ‘Please,  give us some clothes, torches, air fresheners and water.’
Volunteers, mostly students, apparel workers and employees of private firms and organisations, outnumbered rescuers coming from the army and the Fire Service and Civil Defence.
Many private firms came forward with whatever equipment they had to help in the rescue operation.
Witnesses said that the rescue work could have been expedited if all present there had engaged themselves in the operation in a coordinated manner.
A volunteer, who was cutting a concrete slab with a rod cutter, said that more people could have been save if they had heavy-duty tools, expediting their work.
Survivors were crying out for help from all the corners of the rubble.
‘The apparel manufacturers’ association estimated about 3,000 workers to be inside the building at the time of the collapse. We fear that there are about 1,000 people still trapped under the rubble,’ Colonel Shaikhezzuman, of the 9th Infantry Division supervising the rescue operation, told New Age in the afternoon.
A mobile crane that Energypac employed was busy removing remove the rubble from the wreckage.
The control room set up at the site to supervise the rescue operation were only holding news conferences. But reporters found no one in the control room about midday to give the progress in the rescue operation.
Engineering corps captain in the Savar cantonment Lieutenant Colonel Moin said, ‘Three excavators and three bulldozers have been kept standby for the operation. But we will search for survivors for until the 72nd hours. We will then use heavy equipment.’
Air Force officer Mohiuddin said that an oxygen vehicle stated feeding oxygen into the building at 10:00am on Tuesday. He said another such vehicle would be doing the job added today.
The general officer commanding of the ninth infantry division, Major General Chowdhury Hasan Sarwardy, at a press briefing at the control room said that the death toll had reached 200 about 4:00pm. ‘And of them, 191 have been handed over to their families.’ He claimed they had rescued about 2,000 survivors.
As for progress in the rescue operation, he said, ‘If equipment were not used carefully, there could be more casualties.’
He said that 20 teams were working on the site. ‘They are now cutting holes to get inside the building.’
Asked why they were not using heavy equipment such as big cranes and load dumber, he said that everything had been kept standby and would be used in  time.
‘The entire building may collapse further if we use big equipment right now,’ he said.
He said that they needed a of minimum 48 hours and a maximum 72 hours to use heavy equipment. He called on all to keep patience until the rescue operation was called off.
The army officer praised the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, her sister Sheikh Rehena and ruling party activists, including activists of Juba League, Chhatra League and Swechchhasebak League, for their ‘immense support’ for the rescue operation.
The stretch of the highway passing by the collapse site has been kept off-limits to vehicles.

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Rana Plaza death toll reaches 258

Rescuers carry on a salvage operation using torch-lights inside the rubble of Rana Plaza that collapsed at Savar on Thursday. — Sanaul Haque
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