The Rana Plaza came crashing down nine days ago and Gopal has been looking for his wife Rita since. He has been staying at Adhar Chandra High School playground in Savar where the recovered bodies were being taken. Holding a leaflet of his missing wife, he broke down in tears yesterday. Photo: Anisur Rahman
Nine days into the Rana Plaza tragedy, how many people still remain missing is a question officials cannot answer. All they can say is they do not have the exact number.
Rescuers say they are unaware of the number of people working at the nine-storey building when it collapsed on April 24, as the garment owners have not yet given them the actual figures.
Briefing journalists, ISPR Director Shahinul Islam yesterday said they were yet to ascertain the number of those missing because they were still waiting for a list of workers present on the day from the BGMEA.
Brig Gen Ali Ahmed Khan, director general of Fire Service and Civil Defence, told The Daily Star, "The rescue operation would have been easier had we had a list of the people working on different floors."
From 6:00am till midnight yesterday, rescuers had pulled out 25 bodies from the debris, according to Inter Services Public Relations Directorate (ISPR) sources.
With this, the death toll rose to 446 while the number of people rescued alive remained unchanged at 2,437, ISPR added.
On Wednesday, Maj Gen Chowdhury Hasan Suhrawardy, GOC of Bangladesh Army's Ninth Infantry Division, claimed only 149 people were missing.
Hasan, also the coordinator of the rescue operation, said the figure was determined on the basis of a list released by the Dhaka district administration. "The deputy commissioner's office of Dhaka made a list of missing people as per the claims of victim families."
But the ISPR director yesterday said the list Hasan was citing was incomplete.
"We don't know exactly how many people are unaccounted for as we are yet to get a list from the BGMEA," he told reporters near the disaster site in the afternoon.
But BGMEA President Atiqul Islam told The Daily Star last night that they had handed over the list to the army two days ago.
Abdul Wazed, director general of disaster management department, yesterday acknowledged receiving the list according to which there were 3,122 workers in five garment factories in Rana Plaza.
The total number of retrieved dead bodies and the survivors is close to this number, he added.
Zillur Rahman, additional deputy commissioner of Dhaka, yesterday said the authorities had made the list of 149 missing people three days ago, but stopped updating it as relatives did not report to them after receiving the bodies of their loved ones.
"That is why the accurate number of those missing could not be determined. Then we abandoned the task of making a list of the missing people," he told this correspondent.
As bodies have been decomposed beyond recognition, many bodies remain unclaimed and that is why it seems the number of missing people is not reducing, he added.
As on the first day, hundreds of relatives are still running from one place to another in desperate search for their loved ones. Many of them said they would not leave the site until they had received the dead bodies.
Meanwhile, at a separate press briefing, GOC Hasan Suhrawardy yesterday refuted allegations that bodies were secretly being taken away from the building. He blamed some vested quarters for spreading such rumours.
He also alleged some rowdy people, misled by rumours, were disrupting the rescue effort.
"Don't listen to any rumour. We would like to assure everyone that we won't leave the place until we have retrieved the last body," he told reporters near Rana Plaza.
Replying to a query, he said they were not yet sure when the rescue operation would end.