Only the ground floor of the Rana Plaza in the town of Savar outside Dhaka, which also housed a bank branch, remained intact when the incident occurred at about 9:00 am (0300 GMT), said the officials.
‘So far we have recovered 15 dead bodies,’ said Major Zehadul Islam, a director of the fire department. ‘Many people are feared dead,’ he told AFP, adding that the military had been called in to help the rescue effort.
Armed with concrete cutters and cranes, hundreds of fire service and army rescue workers were digging through rubble to pull out trapped people, while many onlookers also joined the effort using their bare hands.
Local police chief M. Asaduzzaman told AFP that the situation was ‘disastrous and at least 100 people are feared trapped’.
Litu Ahmed, an official at the nearby Enam Medical College, told AFP that at least 35 people had been admitted to the hospital with injuries while another 150 had received first aid without being admitted.
‘I was in the cutting section of the garment factory and suddenly we heard a huge noise and the building collapsed within a few minutes,’ a garment worker told private Somoy TV.
‘I removed the rubble and came out with two other workers. But at least 30 other workers in my cutting section were still unaccounted for,’ he said.
The Somoy channel reported that cracks had appeared at the building on Tuesday afternoon, triggering a stampede from panicked workers that left 10 people injured. AFP was unable to immediately confirm the report.
Building collapses are common in impoverished Bangladesh as developers often flout the government’s construction code in the building of multi-storey buildings.
More than 70 people were killed after a multi-storey garment factory collapsed in the same area in 2005. In November at least 13 people were killed after an under-construction flyover fell in the port city of Chittagong.
Bangladesh has the second-biggest garment industry in the world, providing cheap clothes for major Western brands and retailers which benefit from its abundant low-cost labour.
But the industry is plagued by regular accidents and frequent demonstrations from workers demanding better wages and working conditions.
In November, a fire at a garment factory on the outskirts of Dhaka killed 111 workers in the industry’s worst accident.
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