Death toll in Bangladesh building collapse passes 500

People cover their noses as they search through line of dead bodies in hopes of identifying their relative at a school turned make-shift morgue for victims of garment factory building collapse, May 2, 2013, in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh.
AP

DHAKA, Bangladesh Police in Bangladesh say the death toll from last week's building collapse has surpassed 500.

Police officials said that, after pulling more bodies from the wreckage Friday, the number of confirmed deaths stood at 501.

This, as police arrested the engineer who warned the day before it collapsed that that the building, which housed garment factories, was unsafe.

Abdur Razzak Khan worked as the Rana Plaza owner's consultant when the owner illegally added three floors atop his five-story building, police official Ohiduzzaman said Friday. Khan was arrested Thursday on a charge of negligence.

Owner Mohammed Sohel Rana called Khan to inspect the building after it developed cracks on April 23, local media have reported. Khan appeared on a private television station saying after his inspection that he told Rana to evacuate the building because it was not safe.

Khan, a former engineer at Jahangirnagar University, near Savar, said he drew attention of the government engineers for the building to be examined further.

Police ordered the building evacuated, but witnesses say Rana told people gathered outside the next morning that the building was safe and that garment factory managers told their workers to go inside. It collapsed hours later.

Police official Ohiduzzaman said Khan was arrested on charge of negligence.

The elected mayor of Savar municipality, Mohammad Refatullah, also has been suspended for alleged negligence in approving the design and layout of the doomed building, said Abu Alam, a top official of the local government ministry.

Alam said an official investigation has found that the mayor ignored rules in approving the design and layout. The mayor is from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and the opposition BNP has criticized the suspension as politically motivated.

The collapse was the deadliest disaster in the history of Bangladesh's $20 billion-a-year garment industry, which supplies global retailers.

Workers were carefully using cranes to remove the concrete rubble.

"We are still proceeding cautiously so that we get the bodies intact," said Maj. Gen. Chowdhury Hassan Suhwardy, the commander of the area's army garrison supervising the rescue operation.

The official number of missing was still at 149 though unofficial estimates are higher.

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

The Bangladesh High Court has ordered the government to confiscate Rana's property and freeze the assets of the owners of the factories in Rana Plaza so the money can be used to pay the salaries of their workers.

Among the garment makers in the building were Phantom Apparels, Phantom Tac, Ether Tex, New Wave Style and New Wave Bottoms,