NEW: Death toll up to 398, Red Crescent Society says
Many were parents with children still waiting for them to come home, local editor says
Red Crescent says the chances of finding someone alive are very remote
Most of the factory workers were between ages 18 and 22, the editor says
Bangladesh’s Cabinet decided to inspect the safety and security of all garment factories Monday after last week’s deadly building collapse, state news reported.
At least 398 people were killed when a factory collapsed at Rana Plaza in Savar, a Red Crescent official told CNN, and up to 2,773 people survived.
Under the inspection plan, a committee led by a state minister would visit the factories and submit a report to the government about the safety measures, Cabinet Secretary Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan told reporters.
The panel includes the ministries of home, labor, disaster management, textiles, defense, industries and environment.
M.S. Akbar, chairman of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, said the rescue operation might be completed by Tuesday or Wednesday. At least two bodies were pulled from the wreckage Monday, but no survivors were found.
Rescuers are now using heavy machinery to remove wreckage at the site of the collapsed building, suggesting the hunt for survivors of the disaster is coming to an end.
“It is hardest for those family members who do not know if their loved ones are dead or alive or trapped,” Akbar said. The chances of finding more survivors were dim “unless there’s a miracle.”
Many workers hailed from the country’s north
Most of the factory workers were between the ages of 18 and 22, said Morshed Ali Khan, editor of the local Daily Star newspaper. Most were impoverished residents from the country’s northern region who went to the city to find work. Many were parents with children still waiting for them to come home.
Khan has seen several hundred families looking for loved ones each of the past five nights.
“A strong stench of rotting human flesh has taken over the scene. It is very hard to stand next to the site,” he told CNN.
Yet children and their grandparents still waited at the scene Monday. They said they would camp out at the site until they get the body of their loved one, Khan said.
Some relatives have lost work while waiting at the site. Many sleep on the street or quietly clutch a photo. One man was talking to himself with a photo of his son in his hand.
Some have given up hope of finding their relatives alive.
“Yesterday a woman told me, ‘I want the dead body of my daughter so I can take her dead body home to bury,’ ” Khan said.
Rescue teams have been combing through the debris since Wednesday morning, when the nine-story building collapsed and buried thousands of garment workers.
“We will proceed extremely cautiously,” Brig. Gen. Ajmal Kabir told reporters at the scene Sunday.
Sunday evening’s rescue efforts were disrupted by reports that a fire had broken out as workers tried to cut through mangled metal trapping a woman identified only as Shahana.
Shahinul Islam of Bangladesh’s Inter Services Public Relations – a department of the Ministry of Defense – told reporters that the fire was put out shortly afterward, but it was not clear what happened to the woman. Local media reports said she died.
The commercial building, containing five garment factories, several shops and a bank, was in Savar, about 45 kilometers (27 miles) from the capital, Dhaka.
Cracks had appeared in the building structure a day before the collapse, but garment workers were told to come in despite their concerns that the building was unsafe.
Authorities have arrested seven people: three factory owners; two government engineers; the owner of the building, Sohel Rana, a local leader of the ruling Awami League who was caught as he tried to flee the country; and Rana’s father.
John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, told CNN that while people should be held accountable, Bangladesh’s government and the garment industry must also take steps to protect their workers.
He said research conducted by Human Rights Watch indicated that there were only 18 inspectors for the 100,000 factories operating in and around Dhaka.
“What this tragedy really needs to result in is stricter labor laws, stricter safety laws and the government coming to terms with the reality that it can’t just supply all these workers without giving those workers their rights.
“There are only so many tragedies like this that can happen before Western retailers and Western buyers … realize that they are going to go elsewhere, not because they necessarily can get lower prices but because the scandal is too much.”
Journalist Katie Hunt wrote and reported from Hong Kong and Aliza Kassim reported from Atlanta. CNN’s Saeed Ahmed, Harmeet Singh and Joe Sterling and journalist Farid Ahmed contributed to this report.