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More than 600 bodies pulled from rubble

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DHAKA, Bangladesh -- More than 600 bodies have been recovered from the garment-factory building that collapsed well over a week ago, police said Sunday as the grim recovery work continued in one of the worst industrial accidents ever.

Police said Sunday night the death toll had reached 622. Well over 200 bodies have been recovered since Wednesday, when authorities said only 149 people had been listed as missing. The stench of decomposing bodies remains amid the broken concrete of the eight-storey Rana Plaza building, and it is anyone's guess how many victims remain to be recovered.

The April 24 disaster is likely the worst garment-factory accident ever, and there have been few industrial accidents of any kind with a higher death toll. It surpassed long-ago garment-industry disasters such as New York's Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, which killed 146 workers in 1911, and more recent tragedies such as a 2012 fire that killed about 260 people in Pakistan and one in Bangladesh that same year that killed 112.

Five garment factories operated in the building that collapsed, and many brand labels have been found in the wreckage. Only two retailers, Britain's Primark and Canada's Loblaw Inc., have acknowledged their clothes were being made there at the time. Some products of Loblaw's Joe Fresh clothing line were made at the plant.

An architect whose firm designed the building said Sunday it had not been designed to handle heavy industrial equipment, let alone the three floors that were later illegally added. The equipment used by the five garment factories that occupied Rana Plaza included huge generators that were turned on shortly before the building crumbled.

Masood Reza, an architect with Vastukalpa Consultants, said the building was designed in 2004 as a shopping mall and not for any industrial purpose.

"We designed the building to have three storeys for shops and another two for offices. I don't know how the additional floors were added and how factories were allowed on the top floors," Reza said.

"Don't ask me anything else. This is now a sensitive issue," Reza said before hanging up.

Government officials say substandard building materials, combined with the vibration of the heavy machines used by the factories, led to the collapse.

The building developed cracks a day before the collapse and the owner, Mohammed Sohel Rana, called engineer Abdur Razzak Khan to inspect it. Khan appeared on television that night and said he told Rana the building should be evacuated.

Police also issued an evacuation order, but witnesses say hours before the collapse, Rana told people the building was safe and garment factory managers told their workers to go inside.

Rana has been arrested is expected to be charged with negligence, illegal construction and forcing workers to work, crimes punishable by a maximum of seven years in jail. Authorities have not said if more serious crimes will be added.

Khan was arrested, as well. Police said he worked as a consultant to Rana when the three illegal floors were added.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 6, 2013 A12

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