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Bangladesh Fire Kills 8, Collapse Death Toll Hits 912

The country's powerful garment industry has been plagued by a series of disasters in recent months.

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    TK
    AP
    Workers stand outside an 11-story building that houses the Tung Hai Sweater Ltd. factory and apartments after a fire in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Thursday, May 9, 2013.

    A fire in a garment factory in Bangladesh killed eight people, including a top official in the country's powerful clothing manufacturers' trade group, as the death toll from the collapse of another garment building passed 900 on Thursday.

    The fire Wednesday night raced through the lower floors of the 11-story building housing the Tung Hai Sweater Ltd. Factory — which had closed for the day — as well as apartments, fire official Nazrul Islam said. Fire officials said the cause of the blaze was not yet known.

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    The fire burned parts of the first and second floors, which housed the factory, and parts of the third, which housed apartments.

    By early Thursday, firefighters had confirmed the deaths of eight people, Islam said. All the dead had been found in a stairwell, apparently trying to flee the building.

    The dead included the factory's managing director, Mahbubur Rahman, who was also a top official with the powerful Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association. A police official was also among the dead, according to fire officials.

    It took more than three hours for firefighters to get control of the blaze, which began soon after the factory's roughly 300 workers had gone home for the day, officials said.

    The country's powerful garment industry has been plagued by a series of disasters in recent months, including a November fire at the Tazreen factory that killed 112.

    However, last month's collapse of the eight-story Rana Plaza building, which housed five garment factories, stands out as the worst tragedy in the history of the global garment manufacturing industry.

    More than two weeks after the collapse, workers with cranes and other heavy equipment were still pulling apart the rubble and finding more bodies. On Thursday, authorities said the death toll had risen to 912 and it was unclear how many more people remained missing. More than 2,500 people were rescued alive after the April 24 accident.

    Maj. Ohiduzzaman, an army official who uses only one name, said 100 decomposing bodies have been kept at a makeshift morgue at a local school ground and were to be sent to hospitals in Dhaka for DNA testing to identify them.

    A total of 648 bodies have so far been handed over to the families, he said. Some of those who authorities have been unable to identify have been buried by the government.

    The European Union's delegation to Bangladesh urged the government Wednesday to "act immediately" to improve working conditions in the country's $20 billion garment industry.

    Abdul Latif Siddiqui, head of special Cabinet committee to inspect garment factories that was formed days after the Rana Plaza collapse, said the government has closed 18 garment factories in recent days for failing to meet work and safety standards. He did not say whether the closures were temporary or permanent.

    Authorities also began disbursing salaries and other benefits to workers from the Rana Plaza factories, after they protested demanding compensation.

    About 2,000 people gathered at a military athletic field in the Dhaka suburb of Savar on Wednesday to receive their salaries, but the process was slow because many had no identity cards, said Faruk Hossain, an inspector for the Industrial Police.

    He said factory supervisors were helping identify workers who did not have ID cards or other proof that they were employed by the five factories.

    Rafiqul Islam, an official with the garment manufacturers' association, said the disbursement would continue in phases.

    The workers, many of whom made little more than the national minimum wage of about $38 per month, are demanding at least four months' salary.

    Local government administrator Yousuf Harun has said no salary remained unpaid except for the month of April and there was an agreement for the workers to receive an additional three months of pay.

    Officials say the owner of Rana Plaza illegally added three floors and allowed the garment factories to install heavy machines and generators, even though the structure was not designed to support such equipment.

    The owner and eight other people including the owners of the garment factories have been detained.