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Bangladesh united in grief over a failed rescue from collapsed factory

Many hundreds have been rescued so far. But a fire broke out today amid the rubble of the collapsed building, ending hopes of saving a known survivor named Shahina Akhter.

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Rescue workers search Sunday for survivors in the remains of a collapsed garment factory in Bangladesh.

Wong Maye-E/AP

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She was the last person located and known to still be alive inside a garment factory building that collapsed last week in Bangladesh. But before rescuers could save Shahina Akhter, a fire broke out in the rubble today and the woman who captured the attention of the nation perished. The death toll now stands at 378.

Bangladesh is passing through one of its gloomiest national moments. Civilians extending help in the rescue effort were anxiously looking forward to Ms. Akhter's rescue, as were those away from the site, who remained glued to television and mobile phones.

Firefighters made three foxholes in the area where Akhter was stuck and almost managed to get her out. In the meantime, public hope for her rescue led the army to hold off on its plans this morning to start using heavy equipment to clear more of the rubble, according to Masudur Rahman Akand, a deputy assistant director of the Fire Service and Civil Defense.

When the fire broke out, the failure brought tears to the eyes of many. With the fourth day of search and rescue coming to a close, victims are reluctant to give up hope, and a nation remains, for a time, united in grief and anger. 

According to information provided by relatives of those who worked in the factories, about 761 persons are still missing. A security guard rescued last night has said that a person on the seventh floor of the squeezed building was still alive.

“There could be few more people still surviving inside the wreckage,” says a local journalist present at the site.

However, preparations are underway to begin the second phase of recovery by using cranes and other heavy equipment. “According to our estimates possibly there is no more persons alive,” says a lieutenant colonel with the Bangladesh Army. “With [only] light equipment we cannot remove all the rubble.”

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