SAVAR, Bangladesh — Rescue workers in Bangladesh have given up hopes of finding any more survivors in the rubble of a building that collapsed five days ago, and began using heavy machinery to remove the rubble and look for bodies, an official said Monday.
At least 380 people were killed when the illegally constructed, eight -story Rana Plaza collapsed in a heap on Wednesday morning along with thousands of workers in the five garment factories in the building. About 2,500 survivors have been accounted for.
The building owner, Mohammed Sohel Rana, was arrested Sunday in the western border town of Benapole while he was trying to flee to India.
The collapse was the deadliest disaster to hit the garment industry in Bangladesh that is worth $20 billion annually, supplies global retailers and is a mainstay of the economy.
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Volunteers, army personnel and firemen have worked around the clock since Wednesday, mostly using hands and light equipment to pull out survivors.
Around midnight Sunday, authorities deployed hydraulic cranes and heavy cutting machines to break up the massive slabs of concrete into manageable segments that could be lifted away.
“We are proceeding cautiously. If there is still a soul alive, we will try to rescue that person,” army spokesman Shahinul Islam said.
“There is little hope of finding anyone alive. Our men went inside and saw some dead bodies in the ground floor. But no one was seen alive,” said Brig. Gen. Ali Ahmed Khan, the chief of the fire brigade at the scene.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited the site and a nearby hospital to meet with survivors Monday, the first time since the disaster.
Hasina had ordered the arrest of building owner Rana, who is a small-time political operative from the Awami League party’s youth wing.
He was brought back by helicopter from the border town to the capital, Dhaka, where he is expected to be charged with negligence Monday.
He had permission to build a five-story building but added three more illegally.
He last appeared in public Tuesday in front of the Rana Plaza after huge cracks appeared in the building.
Witnesses said Rana assured tenants that the building was safe. Police, however, ordered an evacuation.
A bank and some first-floor shops closed, but managers of the garment factories on the upper floors told workers to continue their shifts.
Hours later, the Rana Plaza was reduced to rubble, crushing most victims under massive blocks of concrete.
Police have also arrested four owners of three factories.
Also in detention for questioning are two municipal engineers who were involved in approving the building’s design. Local TV stations reported that the Bangladesh High Court has frozen the bank accounts of the owners of all five garment factories.
A garment manufacturers’ group said the factories in the building employed 3,122 workers, but it was not clear how many were inside when it fell.
About 2,500 survivors have been accounted for.
Labor activists, citing customs records, company websites or labels discovered in the wreckage, say the factories produced clothing for JC Penney; Cato Fashions; Benetton; Primark, the low-cost British store chain; and other retailers.
Everywhere near the building, the stench of death was overpowering.
Men in surgical masks sprayed disinfectant in the air. Others sprayed air freshener.
At one point, the police said, searches inside the structure were suspended because some rescuers were overcome by dust and the odor of decomposing bodies.
For days, rescuers crawled through pancaked spaces on their hands and knees, afraid that using heavy machinery would collapse the building further.
Lowered precariously into holes, they called out through the rubble and the darkness, listening for the voices of survivors.
Many were saved in the painstaking process.
In his ground-floor office, the director of Enam Hospital, Dr. Mohammed Anawarul Quader Nazim, said that more than 650 survivors had been brought in since the Wednesday-morning disaster.
The scope of injuries was horrifying: fractured skulls, crushed rib cages, severed livers, ruptured spleens. One survivor lost both legs.
So many people suffered crushed limbs that his hospital sent a medical team to the wreckage to help handle on-site amputations.
Information from The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times is included.