Speaking to Porthom Alo, several members of the fire service rescue team said when the columns or beams of a building are damaged by an explosion it requires to be examined by civil engineers. The weight of the building needs to be assessed and for 100kg, a shoring machine with a capacity of 150kg is required to operate the rescue effort, but this is not happening due to lack of machinery and coordination.

Besides, some agencies are discouraging the fire service to conduct the rescue operation since the building has become risky. Yet, fire service members are conducting rescue operation risking their lives, they said.

It took long to wrap up the rescue operation at the Rana Plaza building collapse in Savar, outskirts of Dhaka, in 2013. At that time, modern machinery was purchased to conduct the rescue operation and the capacity of fire service was also increased. Yet, 10 years after the Rana Plaza collapse, the fire service claims they cannot run rescue operation properly because they don’t have a shoring machine.

Speaking to Prothom Alo on condition of anonymity, a senior fire service official said, “We don’t have a shoring machine and we don’t get cooperation from RAJUK and city corporations on it either. That is why rescue operation is getting delayed.”

Fire Service and Civil Defence Directorate director general Brigadier General Md Main Uddin said, “Rescue operation gets a bit delayed because of not having a shoring machine. We have much larger machinery, but we need small vehicles and machinery.”

In the meantime, RAUK chairman Anisur Rahman Miah and other officials concerned visited the collapsed building on Wednesday and senior RAUK officials were present at the site since Tuesday night.

When asked about cooperating with the fire service, RAJUK authorised officer (Zone 5/1) Rangan Mondal told Prothom Alo RAJUK oversees the issues related to approval of a building construction.

The agency has no machine to shore up any risky building, the official said adding, once a building is declared risky, it is the responsibility of city corporations to make the structure risk free or demolish it and the city corporations might have such equipment.

Prothom Alo could not reach the city corporations for comment.

However, the Dhaka South City Corporation mayor in a press release on Wednesday said, “We have sent a wheeled excavator responding to the call from the fire service in a bid to accelerate the rescue operation and all concerned have been instructed to immediately supply any kinds of vehicles and machinery necessary for the rescue efforts."

RAJUK’s inspection

Members of RAJUK’s executive committee to assess the condition of the building and recommend future planning visited the explosion site on Wednesday. They visited all the floors of the two buildings damaged by the explosion.

After the inspection, RAJUK member (development) and committee convener Major (retd) Shamsuddin Ahmed Chowdhury said the underground of columns are damaged and these need support. There are 24 columns in the buildings; nine of them sustained damage and the remaining ones also bear the impact of the explosion. It is necessary to make those columns stable now with the support of other beams or bumpers and work will be done on it immediately, he added.

Regarding what would happen to rescue operation amid such condition, committee member and professor of civil engineering department, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) Rakib Ahsan said no column collapsed, but many columns sustained damage and it is very risky to work under such condition. No operation can be done unless columns become stable. Besides, the building is very old and it should be checked whether building codes were followed during the construction, he added.

Another member of the committee and civil engineering department professor of BUET, said the basement sustained the actual damage and it needs to be assessed whether the foundation of the building suffers is damaged.

The assessment will take two months, he said adding, soil tests should be conducted since the building was constructed in 1980 and it also needs to be examined whether any new problem arises. It will take about a year to make the building habitable and support load must be laid against damaged columns to prevent the building from collapsing.

Rescue operation of fire service

According to witnesses, people from surrounding area began rescue operations after the explosion. According to the fire service headquarters, five units of the fire service rushed to the spot and began recuse operation after the receiving news of an explosion at 4:50pm. Six more units joined the operation later. Fire service deputy director (Dhaka division) Dinomoni Sharma on Tuesday evening told Prothom Alo the explosion took place on the ground floor of the building and they were searching for survivors removing the rubble.

According to the fire service, 15 bodies were recovered until 9:15pm on Tuesday and 40 injured were rescued. Later the fire services suspended the search operation claiming the building has turned risky and it is not possible to continue rescue operation on basement and army will join the search effort in the following morning.

On Wednesday, rescue workers form fire service resumed the operation the site at 9:00am, but they could not enter the building until 11:00am as they did not get permission from the authorities concerned to conduct rescue operations inside the building. Later, fire service members began the search around 3:00pm after taking to experts verbally and recovered two more bodies following a search for two hours.

Fire service deputy director (Dhaka division) Akhtaruzzaman said a dead body was spotted after seeing flies and then confirmed by the dog squad of Rapid Action Battalion before recovering it.

This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna