Death toll from Bangladesh building collapse rises above 1,000

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Rescuers bring out an injured apparel worker from the sixth floor of the building in Savar, Bangladesh that collapsed on Wednesday, April 24, 2013. (Farid Ahmed/CNN)

DHAKA, Bangladesh (CNN) — More than two weeks after a building in Bangladesh housing factories full of garment workers caved in, the death toll from the South Asian nation’s deadliest industrial disaster has surpassed 1,000, authorities said Friday.

For the 17th day, rescue and recovery workers are searching through the nine-story building’s tangled wreckage in Savar, a suburb of the capital, Dhaka. During the first several days of dangerous and painstaking work, they got more than 2,400 people out of the rubble alive.

But since then, they haven’t found any more survivors. The past 11 days have focused on the grim task of retrieving dead bodies still buried in the heap of broken concrete, many of them so severely decomposed that authorities struggle to identify them.

As more bodies were recovered on Friday, the total number of people confirmed dead rose to 1,039, said Maj. Zihadul Islam, a fire service official.

The owners of the building and the factories are under investigation over accusations they ordered workers to enter the premises on the day of the collapse despite cracks in the structure the day before.

Lax safety standards

The Bangladeshi government has faced criticism for failing to improve the lax safety standards in the country’s thousands of garment factories where millions of people work.

The Savar building collapse happened five months after a fire at a garment factory near Dhaka killed more than 100 people. And on Wednesday, eight people died in a fire at another factory in the Dhaka area.

The European Union has threatened to take trade action against Bangladesh if it doesn’t take concrete steps to improve health and safety conditions for workers.

Western retailers and clothing brands that source their products from Bangladeshi factories are also under pressure to subject their supply chains to greater scrutiny.

The grim search for bodies

At the site of the building collapse in Savar, the salvage operation is in its final stage, using cranes and bulldozers to clear the rubble and uncover the remaining bodies, the national news agency Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) reported Thursday.

The smell of death continues to permeate the surrounding area, prompting people passing by on a nearby highway to cover their noses, BSS said. Recovery workers combing the debris have had to resort to using face masks and cans of air freshener to try to block out the stench.

Hundreds of people looking for their missing relatives are still waiting by the grounds of a nearby school where retrieved bodies are first taken for an initial attempt at identification. But the decomposed state of the bodies often means they are unrecognizable.

Authorities have resorted to sending some of the remains to a Dhaka hospital for DNA tests, BSS reported. The bodies are then buried unidentified pending the results of the DNA tests.

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