DHAKA, May 9 (Xinhua) -- Sixteen days into the grim recovery work in Bangladesh's worst industrial tragedy, the death toll approached 1,000 Thursday afternoon after 55 more bodies were pulled out from the wreckage of an eight-storey building housing five garment factories.
An official of the Dhaka district administration's control room, set up outside the building Rana Plaza to coordinate the rescue, told Xinhua "the confirmed death toll now stands at 921 with recovery of 55 bodies till 2 p.m. (local time) Thursday."
The official, who preferred to be unnamed, said the rescuers have been continuing their efforts as the stench of decaying bodies still remained strong around the ruins of the sandwiched building that crumbled like a pack of cards on April 24 at about 8: 30 a.m. local time.
Following the cracks detected just one day before the man-made disaster, thousands of workers were evacuated but none has bothered about the cracks when officials of the factories forced them on the next morning to join workplaces for making clothing for many major global brands.
According to the official, there is no authentic indication of how many bodies still remain trapped in the piles of the rubble because the exact number of people inside the building at the time of the collapse has not been known.
Rescuers have pulled alive more than 2,437 people after the building crumbled.
Many family members still await bodies and were seen around the scene of the collapsed building and a school ground where the bodies are initially kept for identification.
Tawheedul Islam, a police control room official, said more than 64 bodies that were badly damaged and decomposed well beyond recognition have gone unclaimed and have already been buried.
"Now only a handful of bodies with which we get their mobile phones and identification cards are being identified by their relatives," said a Bangladesh Army rescuer who preferred to be unnamed.
He said, "The authorities are preserving tissue suitable for DNA of the unidentified bodies."
Rescuers believe many more bodies were expected to be found in the rubble as cranes and bulldozers cut through a mountain of concrete and mangled steel when decaying stench from the rubble remained strong.
An initial government probe has blamed vibrations from giant generators combined with the vibrations of sewing machinery for the collapse of the building, allegedly constructed without proper permission with substandard materials.
At least 12 people have been arrested, including the owner of the collapsed building and owners of the factories.
According to sources, almost all the fatalities are workers of the five factories -- Phantom Apparels, Phantom Tac, Ether Tex, New Wave Style and New Wave Bottoms -- which make clothing for many major global brands.
Apart from a bank's branch and hundreds of shops, six floors of the building, owned by a ruling party leader, housed the five garment factories which, according to the months-old data of the owners' association, employed nearly 3,122 workers, mostly women.
But the BGMEA, which is now preparing a list of all workers to disburse salary, says there were more workers in the factories than those figures showed.
Thanks to its cheap labor, Bangladesh is now the world's second largest garments exporter after China, producing global brands for customers around the world. Yet the country's garment industry has been heavily criticized on safety concerns and labor unrest over rock-bottom wages in the recent years.
The tragedy revived questions about the commitments of factory owners and their global buyers to providing safe working conditions in the 20-billion-U.S.-dollar export sector, which comprises about 5,000 factories employing more than 4 million workers, 80 percent of whom are women.
Eight people including owner and one deputy inspector general of police were killed when ten others sustained injuries in a fire at a 11-storied garment factory in Bangladesh's capital Dhaka in the early hours of Thursday.
The casualty was less because the factory was closed when the fire broke out at about 11 p.m. on Wednesday night.
In one of the worst tragedies in Bangladesh's history late last year, at least 112 workers were killed in a fire that razed the eight-storey Tazreen Fashion Limited, where global brands, including those of U.S. retail giant Wal-Mart, were manufactured.
While many have blamed a section of factory owners and their foreign buyers for being greedy, careless and selfish, Haroon Ar Rashid, a former vice-president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said that "responsibility for the disaster must ultimately lie with the government and its regulatory bodies, the building owner and the respective factory owner of the building."
Bangladesh's Textiles and Jute Minister Abdul Latif Siddique said Wednesday that the government will close down factories deemed to be dangerous.
He passed the remarks after the authorities have closed down 18 garment factories, 16 in Dhaka and two in Chittagong, temporarily as part of its efforts to allay fears of global buyers and rights groups over safety and labor standards.
Bangladesh has already asked the apparel owners to have their factory buildings examined by expert engineers and then submit report to the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments.