SAVAR, Bangladesh – Hopes were quickly fading Wednesday for 200 people still trapped in the debris of a nine-story garment factory (search) that collapsed after a boiler exploded, killing at least 31 people, officials said.
Rescue attempts have been hampered by a lack of equipment, with firefighters and soldiers using crowbars, hammers, and their hands to clear the debris of the wrecked sweater factory.
One more body was recovered on Wednesday, a police official said on condition of anonymity. That brought the confirmed death toll to 31, but the tally was expected to rise with about 200 people still trapped three days after the accident.
"We are doing our best to reach those still trapped inside. But the chances of anyone finding alive are getting slim," said an army commander supervising the rescue work at the accident site near Savar, an industrial town 20 miles northwest of the capital, Dhaka (search).
Some trapped survivors could be heard calling for help and begging for water, but their cries faded by Tuesday evening, witnesses said.
Witnesses also said a bad odor — possibly from rotting corpses — has spread in the area.
Officials believe more than 300 workers were in the factory on Monday when the boiler explosion caused the building to collapse.
One survivor astonished rescuers Tuesday by pulling himself out of the rubble.
"He just crawled out of an open space all by himself, stood dazed for a bit and collapsed in front of us," said Anisul Islam, a rescue volunteer. "We were amazed, it was a real miracle."
The 25-year-old survivor, who was trapped on the ground floor, was recovering in a hospital, rescuers said.
Anxious relatives have joined the search for survivors, clawing at the rubble with their bare hands.
"What sin have we committed? Why would Allah take him?" said Sharmin Akhtar, 23, as she searched for her husband Jahangir Alam.
The government ordered an investigation into the accident, Junior Home Minister Lutfozzaman Babar said after visiting the site.
The factory, Spectrum Sweaters Ltd., produced nearly 80,000 pieces of clothing a day for export annually, mainly to the United States, Belgium and Germany, employee Kaiser Ahmed said. But he could not specify the brand names of the products.
Bangladesh has about 2,500 garment factories employing about 1.8 million workers — about 90 percent of them women.
The South Asian nation exports more than $5 billion in textiles each year.