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Hopes fade for survivors at Bangladesh disaster site

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Rescue teams at the site of a collapsed factory block in Bangladesh where 363 people have died called in heavy-lifting equipment on Sunday as hopes of finding more survivors faded.

Four people were hauled out alive overnight more than 90 hours after the disaster, but the last feeble cries for help, still audible from inside the mountain of rubble early in the day, appeared to have ended.

"Apparently there is no more sign of life under the rubble," national fire chief Ahmed Ali told AFP. "Together with the army we have decided to use heavy equipment like cranes to remove the debris and slabs vertically from midday today."

Rescuers have been only using hand tools such as cutters and drills, fearing the use of cranes would dislodge masonry and jeopardise the chances of survival of those still trapped alive.

Hundreds of army and fire personnel, as well as workers from the factory who volunteered to help, were still pouring over the disaster site, gulping air freshener to conceal the overpowering stench of decomposing bodies.

"Our hope is that we may still find some people alive under the debris," Ali said. "We shall use cranes very carefully so that it does not harm the chances of survival of people still alive inside."

Dozens of bodies can be seen inside the concrete mountain, meaning the death toll for the country's worst industrial accident is set rise further.

It has once again focused attention on the poor safety conditions in the Bangladeshi garment industry, which is the world's second biggest after China, supplying to most big Western clothing brands.

Britain's Primark and Spain's Mango have acknowledged their products were made in the block, while other brands including Walmart are investigating.

The accident has prompted new accusations from activists that Western firms place profit before safety by sourcing their products from a country where textile workers often earn less than $40 a month.

As outrage over the country's worst industrial disaster spread at home and abroad, police made a string of arrests on Saturday after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina vowed to hunt down those responsible.

Proprietors Bazlus Samad and Mahmudur Rahman Tapash were detained soon after midnight while Aminul Islam, owner of two factories based in the doomed building, was arrested Saturday night, police told AFP.

They faced preliminary charges of causing death by negligence, they said

Five factories were based in the complex at Savar, just outside Dhaka.

The government has also launched a massive search for owners of two other factories and the overall proprietor of the complex, reportedly a ruling party official, after a minister alleged he built the compound without permits.

The local government deputy minister, Jahangir Kabir, identified the compound owner as Sohel Rana as police reported the man had gone into hiding.

Senior investigating officer Kaiser Matubbor said two municipal engineers who gave the building the all-clear after an inspection on Tuesday were also arrested and could face charges of death due to negligence.

Survivors said the complex developed cracks Tuesday, but bosses ordered staff to return to the production lines.

Deputy administrator of Dhaka district Zillur Rahman Chowdhury told AFP that the "death toll is now 363", with more than 2,400 people rescued alive since Wednesday.

Hundreds of relatives of missing workers massed at the site to watch as bodies were pulled from the debris and laid on a school ground for identification.

"Please give my daughter dead or alive. Her two year-old daughter cries all the time to see her mom," said a woman holding photo of her child.

"It's five days we have been here. We've been to every hospital. But she was not there," said.

There is no official figure of the number of people still missing.

As the cranes prepared to get to work, hope was turning to anger amid criticism of the slow pace of efforts, with some experts decrying a lack of coordination in the operation.

"I've been here since Wednesday. We still don't know what happened to my aunt and sister-in-law," said Harunur Rashid, clutching photos of his relatives.

"There are so many people, yet too little work," he said.

With many of Bangladesh's 4,500 factories shut due to protests, bosses declared Saturday and Sunday a holiday.

Several thousand garment workers protested on Saturday near the disaster site but they were dispersed by police firing rubber bullets and tear gas.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130428/hopes-fade-survivors-at-bangladesh-disaster-site