DHAKA, Bangladesh – The death toll from the horrifying collapse of a shoddily built garment factory in Bangladesh hit 580 on Sunday as workers search through the remaining rubble for any remaining bodies.
But as each day passes since the April 24 accident, the work of recovering bodies becomes more gruesome, with the stench of decaying flesh hanging in the air.
Rescue workers said some bodies have deteriorated so badly that they have found bones without flesh. Since the building collapsed in the Dhaka suburb of Savar, temperatures have generally been 90 degrees F or higher, and lows have rarely dipped below 80 F.
"The bodies are smelling. We are using air freshener to work here," said Mohibul Alam, a firefighter at the collapse scene. The odor of decay is overpowering just the same.
Bodies have decomposed beyond recognition, Alam said, adding that some can be identified only because their identification cards were found with them.
Some of the victims who were closest to escaping appear will likely be among the last to be recovered, as rescuers use cranes and other equipment to search on the ground floor, where slabs of concrete walls and floors crashed down.
The official death toll from the collapse reached 580 on Sunday, up from 547 a day earlier. It is expected to rise.
The disaster is likely the worst garment-factory accident ever, and there have been few industrial accidents of any kind with a higher death toll. It surpassed long-ago garment-industry disasters such as New York's Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, which killed 146 workers in 1911, and more recent tragedies such as a 2012 fire that killed about 260 people in Pakistan and one in Bangladesh that same year that killed 112.
Bangladesh's $20 billion garment industry supplies retailers around the world and accounts for about 80 percent of the impoverished country's exports. The collapse has raised strong doubts about retailers' claims that they could ensure worker safety through self-regulation.
Five garment factories operated in the Rana Plaza building that collapsed, and many brand labels have been found in the wreckage, but only two retailers, Britain's Primark and Canada's Loblaw Inc., have acknowledged that their clothes were being made there at the time. Loblaw's CEO has decried the "deafening silence" from what he said were more than two dozen other international retailers who used garment factories in the collapsed building.
Government officials say substandard building materials, combined with the vibration of the heavy machines used by the five factories, led to the collapse.
The building developed cracks a day before the collapse and the owner Mohammed Sohel Rana called engineer Abdur Razzak Khan to inspect it. Khan appeared on television that night and said he told Rana the building should be evacuated.
Police also issued an evacuation order, but witnesses say that hours before the collapse, Rana told people that the building was safe and garment factory managers told their workers to go inside.
Rana has been arrested is expected to be charged with negligence, illegal construction and forcing workers to join work, crimes punishable by a maximum of seven years in jail. Authorities have not said if more serious crimes will be added.
Khan was arrested as well. Police said he worked as a consultant to Rana when three illegal floors were added to what was supposed to be a five-story building.
The government promised to make the garment industry safer after the November garment factory fire that killed 112 people, saying it would inspect factories for safety and pull the licenses of those that failed. That plan has yet to be implemented.
Bangladesh is popular as a source of clothing largely because of its cheap labor. The minimum wage for a garment worker is $38 a month, after being nearly doubled this year following violent protests by workers. According to the World Bank, the per capita income in Bangladesh was about $64 a month in 2011.