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Dhaka Tribune

Rana Plaza collapse: What happened that day

  • Memories haunt survivors
  • Victims struggle, demand rehabilitation
  • Labour unions want compensation, swift trials
Update : 24 Apr 2024, 09:00 AM

Wednesday marks the 11th anniversary of the collapse of Rana Plaza in Savar, on the outskirts of Dhaka, which left over 1,100 people dead in the deadliest garment factory disaster in history.

It was the morning of April 24, 2013. Workers came to Rana Plaza to work like every other day. Suddenly there was a loud noise. The entire seven-storey building crumbled at around 9:30am. The search for the dead ended the following month, with a death toll of 1,136.

Eleven years on, nightmares still haunt the survivors of the collapse. Their demand is straightforward:  a fair trial of those involved in such preventable tragedies.

Rana Plaza was located near the Savar bus stand next to the Dhaka-Aricha highway. It housed shops on the ground floor, shops and banks on the first floor, and garment factories on the third to seventh floors. 

About 3,000 people were working in the building that fateful morning, with the hustle and bustle starting at around 8am. 

Locals started rescue work immediately after the collapse, with the army, navy, fire service, Ansar, RAB and police quickly joining the rescue operation.

Preventable tragedy

A day before the collapse, cracks appeared in some pillars of the third and fourth floors of the building, which prompted the workers to come down to the street. 

Local journalists went there after receiving the information. However, the building authorities did not allow them to enter the establishment. They contacted the local administration and the news soon appeared in the papers.

In the afternoon, the then upazila nirbahi officer, Kabir Hossain Sardar, inspected the cracks and assured business and labour representatives that they were not a big deal and there was no possibility of a major accident. Just a little plaster had come off, he said. “Everything will be alright.” Then the UNO left the place.

Hours later, the world witnessed the biggest building collapse in history. The UNO was withdrawn for dereliction of duties soon after.

Injured workers, labour leaders and civil society say the incident could have been avoided had the administration taken proper action.

Ambulance sirens, dead bodies

The injured and the dead were pulled out one by one. 

Those with injuries were taken to nearby hospitals, while the deceased were taken to the Adhar Chandra Government High School ground in Savar.

Each body recovered during the operation – which lasted for 17 days – was taken to the field by ambulance. Relatives waiting for bodies would rush upon hearing ambulance sirens. The school grounds were filled with the cries of relatives.

Adhar Chandra Government High School still evokes that memory.

Abdus Salam, a student at the school at the time, said before the accident, he would play with his friends on the field, but after the collapse, it only worked as a reminder of all the dead bodies. “It still makes me tremble.”

Memories

A monument built by labour organizations in front of the ruins of Rana Plaza in memory of the dead workers on May 24, 2013 stands as a symbol of protest. Photo: Dhaka Tribune

Memories of the devastating day still haunt the 2,438 injured workers who were rescued. Many of them lost limbs and are crippled. 

A monument built by labour organizations in front of the ruins of Rana Plaza in memory of the dead workers on May 24, 2013 stands as a symbol of protest.

Named “Resistance,” different labour organizations hold programs around this memorial.

Present condition

Almost all the debris was removed immediately after the collapse. Barbed wire and tin fencing soon surrounded the land. Back then, relatives of injured, dead and missing people used to come to Rana Plaza almost every day. But gradually the place turned into a wasteland.

The place is now occupied by vegetation. The memorial is in front of it. Cars to be rented out are parked across the sidewalk. 

The place only comes alive on April 24 due to programs held to mark the tragedy.

What labour leaders say

After the collapse, almost every trade union started protests demanding the working environment be kept safe as well as compensation for the dead and injured based on loss of earnings. They also strongly demanded that April 24 be declared a national mourning day.

Bangladesh Garments and Industrial Workers Federation President Rafiqul Islam Sujan called for ensuring treatment for the injured and swift trials. 

“I have requested the government and municipality to clean up the place.” 

Khairul Mamun Mintu, legal affairs secretary of the Bangladesh Garment and Sweater Workers Trade Union Center, said even after 11 years, “none of our demands have been met.” 

“We demand their rehabilitation and punishment for those involved in the incident, including Sohail Rana,” he added.

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