DHAKA - Rescue teams searched Friday for survivors in the rubble after a factory collapsed in Bangladesh, killing at least seven people and sparking fresh criticism over the country's appalling record on workplace safety.
Hundreds of soldiers and emergency personnel worked through the night to clear debris from the site of a half-built cement factory in the port town of Mongla, the area's top administrator Shah Alam Sarder told AFP.
Twelve people were plucked alive from the rubble overnight but rescuers, who were using two cranes as well as steel cutters, were having to work painstakingly slowly for fear of triggering a fresh collapse.
Six bodies have been recovered so far and another could be seen lying under the rubble. At least 53 people were injured, including six whose conditions were critical.
More than 90 staff were on the site when the structure started to cave in on Thursday afternoon, trapping scores of workers under a mass of newly-mixed concrete and steel.
"We're trying to reach the (seventh) body by cutting through a maze of steel but it's taking hours because any mis-step could trigger a collapse in the debris or on the other side of the factory" which is still in tact, fire department director Sheikh Mizanur Rahman told AFP.
Local police chief Jahedur Rahman told AFP that up to 10 people remained unaccounted for.
Most debris cleared
However the fire service doubted whether any more workers would be found, saying that more than 80 per cent of the debris had now been cleared.
The collapse comes less than two years after a garment factory complex imploded outside the capital Dhaka, leaving at least 1,138 people dead and highlighting Bangladesh's perilous labour conditions.
While that disaster did prompt some improvements and greater monitoring of safety in the garment industry, campaigners say that conditions in other workplaces remain as dangerous as ever.
"The horrifying collapse of yet another factory is a stark reminder that the root causes of threats to workers rights have yet to be addressed across the manufacturing sector in Bangladesh," said Sarah Labowitz, an expert on labour rights at New York University Stern School of Business.
Survivors said that poor scaffolding and shoddy construction was the cause of the disaster.
The government has tasked a nine-member committee to complete an investigation into the case within a week, Sarder told AFP.
Masud Kazi, one of the workers who was injured, told the Daily Star newspaper that he and his fellow construction workers were pouring concrete onto the roof when it started collapsing.
"Suddenly, everything broke down," he said.
"I heard a loud noise and saw the roof caving in through the middle," another survivor told private television station Jamuna.
The police chief Rahman said several people were seriously injured after jumping from the collapsing roof.
"Most of the workers who were on the ground floor were mostly able to escape unhurt," he added.
Rahman said the cement factory was owned by Sena Kalyan Sangstha, a company run by the Bangladesh Army. The building contractor was a Chinese firm called China National Building Material (CNBM).