Body identification a challenge now
Shefali in agony after her sister Rezia's body was brought to Adhar Chandra High School playground in Savar yesterday. Shefali along with her three sisters worked in Rana Plaza and all but Rezia escaped alive. Photo: Sk Enamul Haq
It is as if an assembly of the departed had gathered at the approximately 120-feet-long L-shaped verandah of Adhar Chandra High School to silently protest the utter injustice done to them.
The silence is often broken at intervals by the wailing of grief-stricken relatives after they identify the victims.
Yesterday was the 16th day of the rescue operation since the country's deadliest industrial disaster but bodies were still emerging endlessly from the mangled wreckage of the nine-storey Rana Plaza, which housed five garment units and shops, in Savar outside Dhaka.The dead were brought to the school nearly one kilometre from the spot for identification.
For those who have to wait further at the school ground to see their loved ones one last time, the pain seems unbearablle.
From 6:00am yesterday to 2:20am today, as many as 120 bodies were pulled out of the debris, the highest recovery in a day since rescuers began the second phase of the operation using heavy equipment on April 28. The death toll rose to 996 as of the filing of this report at 2:30am today.
Most of the bodies recovered yesterday were highly decomposed. They were nearly impossible to identify when there were no company ID cards or mobile phones along with them. People got confused while trying to identify the bodies, thus putting the authorities in trouble in handing them over.
"I had to identify my wife by the clothes she was wearing. Her facial bones were totally broken," said Mohammad Mubarak Ali, who worked at a garment factory on the fourth floor of the building. His wife was also on the same floor at the time of the building collapse but she was not as lucky as he was.
Sixty-year-old Rasheda Akhter from Tangail was seen moving around the school field frantically as she thought the possibility of finding the body of her daughter Nasima Akhter was becoming thin.
"It is not possible to identify the bodies by seeing their faces. I do not know what dress she wore on that day. How will I get my daughter's body?" said a frustrated Rasheda.
Officials at the district administration control room were asking for ID cards, pictures, mobile phone numbers or sim card documents to verify the claims for dead bodies by families and relatives.
Blood samples of more than 300 family members and DNA samples of over 150 unidentified bodies were collected for DNA tests at Dhaka Medical College Hospital, said Ahmad Ferdous, scientific officer at the National Forensic DNA Profiling Laboratory.
Meanwhile, 76 unclaimed bodies were buried at Jurain graveyard, raising the total number of bodies buried here to 156, Sarwar Jahan, deputy director of Anjuman Mufidul Islam, a charitable organisation for burial, told The Daily Star.
Talking about the rescue operation, Brig Gen Azmal Kabir, commander of 14 independent engineers' brigade of Dhaka Cantonment, said the death toll had been rising sharply in the last few days because the rescuers were recovering bodies from under the staircase.
When the building had begun to collapse, workers rushed to the staircase adjacent to the exit gate that was closed and got trapped under the staircase.
"Our aim is to recover all the bodies. The deadline for completion of the operation cannot be predicted." Rescuers reached the first floor. The ground floor and basement are yet to be examined.
"We will continue the operation until we confirm that there is not a single body left in the debris," Kabir said.
An army officer of the disaster management control cell, Col Abu Ibne Shayekh-uz-Zaman, said that as the rescuers were going deeper, they were getting more bodies.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) has suspended giving wages to the survivors for a while.
BGMEA official Abdul Ahad Ansary told The Daily Star they were updating the list of workers because some had been excluded from it.
However, the trade body started paying salaries to the injured receiving treatment at the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) at Savar.
On Tuesday night and Wednesday, BGMEA paid salaries to 1,776 garment workers, who had managed to survive the disaster.
Today, it will again start paying wages to the survivors around 11:00am at the Savar Cantonment shooting ground.
Meanwhile, the shop owners of Rana Plaza yesterday formed a human chain and blocked the road near the collapsed building for around 10 minutes, demanding compensation.