DHAKA (REUTERS) - An eight-storey block housing garment factories and a shopping centre collapsed on the outskirts of the Bangladeshi capital on Wednesday, killing nearly 100 people and injuring hundreds more, officials said.
Fire fighters and army personnel worked frantically through the day at the Rana Plaza building in Savar, 30 km outside Dhaka, to rescue people trapped in the rubble.
Television showed young women workers, some apparently semi-conscious, being pulled from the debris.
One fireman told Reuters that about 2,000 people were in the building when the upper floors jolted down on top of each other.
Bangladesh's booming garment industry has been plagued by fires and other accidents for years, despite a drive to improve safety standards. In November last year, 112 workers were killed in a blaze at the Tazreen factory in a nearby industrial suburb.
"It looks like an earthquake has struck here," said one resident as he looked on at the chaotic scene of smashed concrete and ambulances making their way through the crowds of workers and wailing relatives.
"I was at work on the third floor, and then suddenly I heard a deafening sound, but couldn't understand what was happening. I ran and was hit by something on my head," said Zohra Begum a worker at one of the factories.
An official at a control room set up to provide information about the missing and injured said that 96 people were confirmed dead and more than 700 were injured.
Police officer Mohammad Asaduzzaman, who is in charge of the area's police station, said factory owners appeared to have ignored a warning not to allow their workers into the building after a crack was detected in the block on Tuesday.
Five garment factories - employing mostly women - were housed in the building, including Ether Tex Ltd., whose chairman told Reuters he was unaware of any warnings not to open the workshops.
"There were some crack at the second floor, but my factory was on the fifth floor," said Mr Muhammad Anisur Rahman.
"The owner of the building told our floor manager that it is not a problem and so you can open the factory."
He said that his firm had been sub-contracted to supply Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the world's largest retailer, and Europe's C&A.
Last November's factory fire put a spotlight on global retailers that source clothes from Bangladesh, where low wages - as little as US$37 (S$46) a month for some workers - have helped propel the country to no. 2 in the ranks of apparel exporters.
It emerged later that a Wal-Mart supplier had subcontracted work to the Tazreen factory without authorisation.
Buildings in the crowded city of Dhaka are sometimes erected without permission and many do not comply with construction regulations. Dozens died when a garment factory collapsed in the same area eight years ago.