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70 dead in Bangladesh garment factory collapse

SAVAR, Bangladesh – An eight-story building housing several garment factories collapsed near Bangladesh’s capital Wednesday morning, killing at least 70 people and trapping many more in the rubble, officials said.

Tens of thousands of people gathered at the site, some of them weeping survivors, some searching for family members. The collapse stirred memories of a fatal fire at a garment factory in November that killed 112 people and raised an outcry about safety in the nation’s garment industry.

Health Minister A.F.M. Ruhal Haque said that by Wednesday afternoon 70 people had been confirmed dead in Wednesday’s collapse at the building in the Dhaka suburb of Savar. Brig. Gen. Mohammed Siddiqul Alam Shikder said another 600 survivors had been rescued.

Reports indicated the death toll could rise.

“We had sent two people inside the building and we could rescue at least 20 people alive. They also told us that at least 100 to 150 people are injured and about 50 dead people are still trapped inside this floor,” said Mohammad Humayun, a supervisor at one of the garment factories.

The collapse happened about 8:30 a.m. and since garment factories in the area routinely work 24 hours a day, it appeared likely that the four housed in the building were staffed at the time.

Firefighters and soldiers using drilling machines and cranes worked together with local volunteers in the search for other survivors from the building, which pancaked onto itself and stood only about two stories tall.

The November fire at the Tazreen garment factory drew international attention to the conditions workers toil under in the $20 billion-a-year textile industry in Bangladesh. The country has about 4,000 garment factories and exports clothes to leading Western retailers. The industry wields vast power in the South Asian nation.

Tazreen lacked emergency exits and its owner said only three floors of the eight-story building were legally built. Surviving employees said gates had been locked and managers had told them to go back to work after the fire alarm went off.

The factory made clothes for Wal-Mart, Disney and other Western brands.

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