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News Wrap: Death Toll Rises to More Than 230 in Bangladesh Factory Disaster

April 25, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
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HARI SREENIVASAN: The death toll from a collapsed building in Bangladesh topped 230 today and rescue efforts continued throughout the day. Officials said some 2,000 people survived the disaster, but an unknown number were trapped.

We have a report narrated by John Sparks of Independent Television News.

JOHN SPARKS, Independent Television News: In the rubble and dust, amidst the concrete slabs and toppled sewing machines, the search for survivors goes on, but time is running out in the remains of what they used to call the Rana Plaza. It was home to garment factories and a shopping mall, but now it’s the site of a national disaster.

In dark spaces, deep within the ruins, voices are heard, people out of reach begging for their lives. Overnight, soldiers and firemen and local volunteers combed the site, removing bodies and bits of rubble by hand, but specialist tools and equipment were hard to come by. Still, there were survivors, both relieved and angry, claiming they’d been forced to work by factory bosses, despite the appearance of cracks in the building earlier in the week.

WOMAN: We didn’t want to go into the factory, but the managers made us. They said there was no problem.

JOHN SPARKS: Local television footage broadcast the day before the building collapsed does show cracks in the walls, and today the police said factory bosses ignored them when they ordered an evacuation of Rana Plaza.

This disaster raises serious questions about the commitment of factory owners, governments and fashion brands to ensure safe working conditions. This afternoon in Dhaka, workers made their own demands in front of the garment industry’s offices, the call for better conditions. When their anger boiled over, skirmishes with the police broke out and three factories were vandalized.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In Iraq, more than 40 people died today in the city of Mosul, as Sunni militants battled police. Elsewhere, gunmen seized control of a Sunni town north of Baghdad. There was no immediate word of casualties. Today’s violence marked the latest clashes between Sunnis and government security forces that have killed more than 150 people in three days.

Last week’s disaster at a Texas fertilizer plant brought out hundreds of mourners today, including the president. They attended a memorial service for the 14 people killed.

A long line of fire trucks made its way through Waco, Texas more than a week after an earth-shattering explosion leveled parts of the nearby small town of West. Firemen and other rescue workers from around the state and country gathered in tribute to their 10 volunteer comrades killed in the blast. They also hoped to demonstrate that West is not forgotten in President Obama’s words from last Friday, amid the Boston terror attack that garnered so much of the nation’s attention.

GOV. RICK PERRY, R-Texas: These were volunteers, ordinary individuals blessed with extraordinary courage and a determination to do what they could to save lives.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The president attended and spoke at today’s ceremony.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Today, I see in the people of West, in your eyes that what makes West special isn’t going to go away. And instead of changing who you are, this tragedy has simply revealed who you have always been.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Amid the mourning, though, many questions remain about what caused the explosion at the West Chemical and Fertilizer Company just before 8:00 p.m. last Wednesday.

It struck with the force of a small earthquake, wiping out a five-block area and blasting a crater 93-feet wide and 10-feet deep. The shockwave was felt more than 50 miles away. Chemical fertilizers were stored at the plant, but one is seen as the likely culprit: ammonium nitrate. It’s been used in roadside bombs in Afghanistan. And the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, combined it with conventional explosives in his 1995 attack. That bomb contained about two-and-a-quarter tons of the chemical.

The plant in West had 270 tons, and it is unclear whether federal, state and local guidelines for reporting and handling the material were followed.

Assistant State Fire Marshal Kelly Kistner spoke on Monday.

ASSISTANT STATE FIRE MARSHAL KELLY KISTNER, Texas: We are still working on inventorying all of those chemicals. Part of that accounting process for all of those materials is this methodical investigation, has to go through it.

HARI SREENIVASAN: At least seven state and federal agencies were responsible for oversight of the plant, among them, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which had not inspected the West plant in 28 years.

Rhode Island will become the 10th state to allow gay marriage. The state Senate voted last night to approve a bill to legalize the practice. It had already passed the House. A final procedural vote will come next week. And Gov. Lincoln Chafee has said he will sign it into law.

On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 24 points to close at 14,700. The Nasdaq rose 20 points to close near 3,290.

Those are some of the day’s major stories — now back to Judy.