A huge building housing Walmart, Disney and New Wave garment factories collapsed today in Savar, Bangladesh killing at least 87, injuring hundreds and trapping perhaps several thousand under tons of concrete.
According to survivors, several thousand workers were in the building when it collapsed, but only 600 were rescued by noon today. It is feared many more are dead.
Witnesses at the scene said they could hear people trapped under the rubble reciting prayers.
Survivors said that they had been evacuated from the building on Tuesday after several cracks appeared but their bosses had ordered them to return to work this morning just one hour before the building collapsed. All the upper floors were flattened in the collapse and only the ground floor remained intact.
The website for one of the Bangladeshi garment factories, New Wave, which occupied part of the building says that at least half the dead were women and children. The children were in day care facilities on the second, sixth and seventh floors of the building.
Clothing bearing the Walmart label was found in the rubble.
Less than five months after a Walmart factory fire killed 112 people the disaster today again underlines the unsafe conditions at Walmart and other factories in Bangladesh's massive garment industry.
Abdur Rahim, a worker on the fifth floor, told the Associated Press that a factory manager assured workers there was no problem so they went inside despite having been evacuated the day before. "We started working. After about an hour or so the building collapsed suddenly," he said. He next remembered regaining consciousness outside the building.
The country's Home Minister told reporters at the disaster site that the building had violated construction codes.
Sumi, a 25-year old worker who goes by just that name, said she was sewing jeans on the fifth floor with at least 400 other workers when the building fell. "It collapsed all of a sudden," she said. "No shaking no indication. It just collapsed on us."
Officials said they expected the death toll to rise.
The collapse, like the November fire at the Tazreen garment factory, drew international attention to working conditions at Walmart and other factories in Bangladesh. The Walmart factory at Tazreen lacked emergency exits. Survivors at that collapse said the regular gates had been locked and managers were telling them to go back to work even after the fire alarm went off.
Photo: Rescuers take a woman to safety after she was injured in the factory collapse. A.M. Ahad/AP