DHAKA – A top investigator probing the recent garment factory disaster in Bangladesh on Friday blamed vibrations from four illegal generators for the collapse of the building, in which more than 500 workers were killed.
The preliminary findings of the government probe, as described by lead investigator Main Uddin Khandaker, gave the clearest explanation yet for the catastrophic structural failure.
“Four huge generators were set up on each of the top floors where garment factories were located, violating rules,” Khandaker, a senior Home Ministry official, said.
“When these generators were started after a power cut they created vibration, and together with the vibration of thousands of sewing machines, they triggered the collapse,” he said.
“Within five minutes the building caved in and sandwiched into one floor like a pack of cards,” he said, adding a final probe report will be submitted after the conclusion of the recovery operation.
It also emerged Friday that an engineer who had warned that the building may be unsafe before it imploded on April 24 was being questioned by police after becoming the latest person to be arrested over the disaster.
With bulldozers clawing away at the mountain of rubble at the site, the number of bodies being recovered from the country’s deadliest industrial disaster has been increasing sharply.
Maj. Sazzad Hossain, who works in the army control room, which was set up to coordinate the rescue operation following the disaster, said that recovery efforts had gathered pace and the “death toll now stands at 540.”
Dozens more people are thought to have been buried alive after the eight-story building collapsed in Savar, which lies around 30 km to the northwest of the capital, Dhaka.
Around 3,000 garment workers sewing clothes for Western brands were on shift at the time of the disaster in the Rana Plaza compound, which housed five different textile factories.
Spain’s Mango, Britain’s low-cost Primark chain and the Italian label Benetton were among the retailers who have confirmed having products made at the site, where the typical worker takes home less than $40 a month.
The collapse is the latest in a series of disasters to befall the $20 billion-a-year industry, which accounts for 80 percent of the country’s exports, and has focused attention on the clothing industry’s global supply chain.
A fire at another factory compound killed 111 workers last November.
Witnesses say the latest disaster happened after bosses insisted staff remain at their work stations, even though cracks had been detected in the building.
Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith downplayed the impact of the collapse on his country’s garment industry, saying Friday, hours after the 500th body was pulled from the debris, that he did not think it was “really serious.”
Muhith spoke as the government cracked down on those it blamed for the disaster in the Dhaka suburb of Savar. It suspended Savar’s mayor and arrested an engineer who had called for the building’s evacuation, but was also accused of helping the owner add three illegal floors to the eight-story structure.
The building owner had been arrested earlier.
The government appears to be attempting to fend off accusations that it is in part to blame for the tragedy because of weak oversight of the building’s construction.
During a visit to the Indian capital, New Delhi, Muhith said that the disaster will not harm Bangladesh’s garment industry, which is by far the country’s biggest source of export income.
“The present difficulties . . . well, I don’t think it is really serious — it’s an accident,” he said. “And the steps that we have taken in order to make sure that it doesn’t happen, they are quite elaborate and I believe that it will be appreciated by all.”
The government made similar promises after a garment factory fire five months ago that killed 112, saying it would inspect factories for safety and pull the licenses of those that failed. However, that plan has yet to be implemented.
Asked if he is worried that foreign retailers might pull orders from his country, Muhith said he is not. “These are individual cases of . . . accidents. It happens everywhere,” he said.