By JIM YARDLEY and JULFIKAR ALI MANIK
Published: May 2, 2013SAVAR, Bangladesh — In an unexpected turn in the investigation into the deadly collapse of the Rana Plaza building, the Bangladeshi police on Thursday arrested the engineer who warned a day before the disaster that the building was unsafe.
The collapse of Rana Plaza, which housed five garment factories employing more than 3,000 workers, is now considered the deadliest accident in the history of the garment industry, with the death toll so far at 446 and many others still missing.
The arrest of the engineer, Abdur Razzaque Khan, was a surprise twist since he was regarded as something of a hero for trying to avert the April 24 disaster. A day before the building collapsed, Mr. Khan had been summoned because cracks had suddenly appeared in the structure, forcing an evacuation. He concluded that the building had become dangerous and should be closed until experts could conduct a more thorough investigation — advice that turned out to be grimly prescient.
His comments appeared the next morning in at least one national newspaper. But the police say that the building’s owner, Sohel Rana, and the factory owners are blaming Mr. Khan, saying he told them the cracks were just a small problem. A police official said that Mr. Khan is being interrogated to determine who is telling the truth.
The police have already arrested two engineers involved in the building’s construction, along with Mr. Rana and the factory owners, who ordered employees to work on the morning of the collapse. The disaster has focused attention on safety conditions in the garment industry in Bangladesh, now the world’s No. 2 clothing exporter, after China.
But it has brought growing scrutiny of the response by the Bangladeshi authorities. Public suspicions about the death toll have become so fevered that the Army general overseeing the rescue effort called a news conference to denounce the rumors.
“Some quarters have alleged that bodies are disappearing,” Maj. Gen. Chowdhury Hasan Suhrawardy told Bangladeshi reporters. “They are fueling public anger by spreading rumors that actual casualties are unbelievably high.”
The authorities say 2,437 people have been rescued. Earlier, the Army announced that 146 people were still missing, a number that drew broad public skepticism. Hundreds of fliers of missing people are posted in Savar, and some people believe that several hundred or more remain unaccounted for. The recovery effort is expected to last at least several more days.
“Don’t listen to any rumors,” General Suhrawardy said. “We would like to assure that we won’t leave the place until we rescue the last body.”
On Thursday, the authorities also suspended the mayor of Savar for his role in the disaster. He is accused of improperly granting building permits to Mr. Rana, a political ally, and of failing to take appropriate steps to close the building once the structural cracks had appeared.