Hopes not over yet
Altaf Hossain raised his arm and pleaded the photographer to lift the pillar on his back just a little so that he could slip out and live. Unable to bear the pain he was in, he couldn't speak anymore. He was yesterday found in the rear end of Rana Plaza, which is just rubbles at Bazar bus stand in Savar. Photo: Amran Hossain
Around 34 hours after the collapse of Rana Plaza, 24 trapped people were rescued alive from beneath the rubble of the nine-storey building yesterday evening, keeping alive the hope that more lives can be saved as the rescue operation continues.
The death toll in the tragic incident in Savar rose to 258 as of 2:00am today, with 108 more bodies extricated from the debris throughout the day. Of the bodies, at least 216 have been handed over to their relatives, police and district administration officials said.
So far some 1,400 survivors have been pulled out, with about 1,000 more believed to be still trapped inside.
Brig Gen Ali Ahmed Khan, director general of Fire Service and Civil Defence, told The Daily Star that 24 survivors and a dead body had been found at one point under the third floor.
Between 1:30am and 2:05am today, another 20 trapped workers were rescued and sent to hospitals.
About the rescue operation, he said a decision would be made depending on the situation. "But we hope to go on with it till tomorrow night [tonight]."
Major Sharif Mohammad Aman Hossain, a rescue leader, told the media around 12:15am today there were around a few hundred people alive in the collapsed building.
Also, the rescue activities were being hampered as a fire broke out on the ground floor around 12:30am.
Some volunteers claimed that it would be difficult to rescue the trapped workers because the firefighters were failing to identify the source of the fire.
The flame could not be doused as of 1:30am today.
Anisur Rahman Raihan, one of the 24 rescued, said those trapped in the debris had severe difficulties breathing inside. "We could hear people working outside, but none heard us screaming."
According to firemen, the lack of oxygen was the main threat to the lives of those trapped alive.
Rescue workers are making frantic efforts to save more lives. But they are facing difficulties in speeding up the operation due to the precarious situation the survivors are in. Shortage of equipment is also slowing down their efforts.
Moreover, the presence of the crowd that gathered on the road stretching for more than a kilometre from the collapsed building is badly affecting the rescue job.
Curious people in their thousands came just to have a glimpse of the crumbled building. Others came to help the rescuers or donate blood for the victims in makeshift blood donation centres. Hundreds of others brought in drinking water and saline.
Although the firefighters, army personnel, Rab members and policemen are running the rescue operation, the general people, locals and even outsiders, are also working round the clock.
The road from Hemayetpur to Savar, which was closed yesterday, will remain so until the rescue operation ends.
Babul Mia, a day labourer, is one of them. He joined the rescue efforts around 6:00pm on Wednesday and was seen working side by side with the professional rescuers yesterday evening without any safety gear on.
"I pulled out 23 trapped workers and 21 bodies from the rubble,” he told The Daily Star.
A strong stench of decomposing bodies is already seeping through the cracks and crevices of the concrete jumble.
Inside a crevice, the corpse of a young man lies on his belly in the dust as if he was in deep sleep.
A girl was rescued around 11:50am by cutting off her hand, which was trapped under the debris. Rescuers later rushed her to a hospital.
Survivors like her are still calling out for help.
“A pillar has fallen over me. Someone please save me. Cut my hands to free me,” Aftab, another trapped man, cried out as The Daily Star correspondents went near the building in the morning.
Hundreds of relatives and neighbours still wait in the hope that they will get some news about their loved ones. As bodies are pulled out and carried to a nearby school ground, they rush for identification. Photos of dozens of victims are pasted on the boundary walls of the school.
But the relatives have to go from one place to another in desperate search of their loved ones due to the absence of a central coordination team that will keep the records of the victims.
"I have been waiting here since yesterday [Wednesday] noon, but I am still clueless about my sister's fate," says Abu Taher, whose red swollen eyes do not produce any more tears.
"I went to every clinic here but did not find her. Can you tell me where to go?" said Taher, who had come all the way from Mymensingh on hearing of the tragedy.
Some people, agitating at the disaster site, alleged the bodies were being transferred to unknown places. They were shouting for the return of their relatives, dead or alive.
Meanwhile, cracks developed yesterday in another eight-storey building owned by Sohel Rana, owner of Rana Plaza. The building, Rana Tower, which houses business offices, has been closed down.
The cracks developed in a pillar on the ground floor of the building, about half a kilometre from Rana Plaza.
Another six-storey building housing a readymade garment factory -- Fatema Garments Ltd -- in nearby Sobhanbagh area developed cracks on its third, fourth and fifth floors.
Local residents forced the building owner, Abdur Rahman, to have it vacated early yesterday, said Anisur Rahman, who runs a medical chamber close to the building near Savar City Centre.
The Upazila Nirbahi Officer and police later visited the building and declared it unsafe.
Meanwhile, the government has formed a five-member committee to investigate the collapse of Rana Plaza.
The committee will probe the reasons for the collapse and find out those responsible for the disaster, said Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir at a press briefing at his secretariat office yesterday.
The minister added the authorities would take action against the Savar UNO if he was found guilty of issuing a no-objection certificate to Rana Plaza. The UNO has no such authority.