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28 Apr, 2013 18:37

Fire kills 'last survivor' in Bangladesh building collapse

Fire kills 'last survivor' in Bangladesh building collapse

A fire broke out in the wreckage of the Bangladesh garment factory which collapsed last week, killing what has been characterized as the last remaining survivor.

"The fire broke out as we were cutting a beam to bring out what we believe was the last remaining survivor from the collapsed building. We managed to douse it, but as we came back we saw her dead," the country’s fire chief Ahmed Ali told AFP on Sunday.

Firefighters described a nearly 11 hour struggle to bring her out alive, with many seen weeping on television following her death.

Her battle for survival had captured the hearts of Bangladeshis watching the drama unfold on television.

Rescue workers moved to postpone a decision to use heavy machinery to clean up the debris in a bid to boost her chances at survival. A volunteer recounted hearing her make a feeble cry for help from underneath the wreckage early on Sunday.

Rescue workers attempt to rescue their colleagues after a fire inside the rubble of the collapsed Rana Plaza building, in Savar, 30 km (19 miles) outside Dhaka April 28, 2013 (Reuters / Andrew Biraj)

"When we first arrived on the scene, she pleaded with us to not to leave her. We gave her water, oxygen, saline and food. And she ate and hang on," a volunteer involved in the rescue operation told the agency.

"She was a brave lady and fought until the end", Ali said. “We took the challenge but we lost. It's broken all our hearts. Everyone became emotional," he continued.

At least three rescue workers were injured when the blaze erupted on Sunday.

Rescue workers have abandoned efforts at the scene of the wreckage which is now consumed by flames, refocusing their efforts on finding any possible survivors in other parts of the decimated eight-story building.

Bangladeshi authorities arrested Sohel Rana, the owner of the building, near the Indian border. He was flown in by helicopter to Dhaka. Upon hearing the news the crowd broke out in cheers at the rescue site.

Rescue workers attempt to rescue garment workers from the rubble of the collapsed Rana Plaza building, in Savar, 30 km (19 miles) outside Dhaka April 28, 2013 (Reuters / Andrew Biraj)

Authorities put the latest death toll at 379, with the number of causalities expected to increase as hundreds remain unaccounted for. Earlier on Sunday, four other people were dug out from the debris after spending nearly 100 hours beneath a mass of broken concrete and metal. Another woman was pulled from the wreckage but later died, fire service officials said.

About 2,500 people have been rescued from the collapsed building which housed five garment factories in the commercial suburb of Savar, located some 20 miles from the capital, Dhaka. Around 1,000 of those rescued sustained serious injuries, as many had limbs amputated in order to free them from the rubble.

The fire came hours after the owner of the illegally-constructed building was captured Sunday while attempting to flee into India via a border crossing.  He is set to face charges of faulty construction and causing unlawful death. Two other owners of garment factories based in the complex were taken into custody on Saturday.

Rescue workers attempt to rescue garment workers from the rubble of the collapsed Rana Plaza building, in Savar, 30 km (19 miles) outside Dhaka April 28, 2013 (Reuters / Andrew Biraj)

Officials said the eight-story complex had been built on spongy ground without the correct permits, and more than 3,000 workers - mainly young women - entered the building on Wednesday morning despite warnings that it was structurally unsafe.

Bangladesh’s garment industry is valued at some $20 billion annually, making it the third largest in the world after China and Italy according to 2011 figures. Many of the workers earn approximately $38 a month to make some of the top international brands in often squalid conditions.

Wednesday’s collapse has sparked days of protests and clashes, with police deploying tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets to suppress often violent demonstrations.

Garment workers blockaded a highway in the neighboring industrial zone of Gazipur on Sunday, demanding the death penalty for the owners.

The country’s opposition has called for a national strike on May 2 to protest the incident.