SAVAR, Bangladesh — More than two days after their factory collapsed on them, at least some garment workers were still alive in the corpse-littered debris Friday, pinned beneath tons of mangled metal and concrete. Rescue crews struggled to save them, knowing they probably had just a few hours left to live, as desperate relatives clashed with police in their anger and grief.
Amid the chaos, the cries for help and the smell of decaying bodies at the eight-story building where more than 300 died, what happened to 18-year-old Mussamat Anna passes as luck. Rescue workers cut off the garment worker's mangled right hand to pull her free from the debris Thursday night.
"First a machine fell over my hand and I was crushed under the debris. ... Then the roof collapsed over me," she told an Associated Press cameraman from a hospital bed Friday.
The death toll topped 300 on Friday and it remained unclear what the final grim number would be. Military spokesman Shahin Islam told reporters that 304 bodies had been recovered.
Brig. Gen. Mohammed Siddiqul Alam Shikder, who is overseeing rescue operations, said 2,200 people have been rescued. The garment manufacturers' group said the factories in the building employed 3,122 workers, but it was not clear how many were inside it when it collapsed Wednesday in Savar, a suburb of Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka.
An army rescue worker, Maj. Abdul Latif, said Friday that he found one survivor still trapped under concrete slabs, surrounded by several bodies. At another place in the building, four survivors were found pinned under the debris, a fire official said. An Associated Press cameraman who accompanied a rescue crew heard two men's anguished cries for help; it was unknown Friday whether they were still alive.
Rescue workers said they were proceeding very cautiously inside the crumbling building, using their hands, hammers and shovels, to avoid more injuries and collapses. But they said the trapped workers were so badly hurt and weakened that they would need to be extricated within a few hours if they are to survive. Facing high humidity and temperatures as high as 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit), and dropping to about 24 C (75 F) at night, many survivors could also be badly dehydrated.
A military official, Maj. Gen. Chowdhury Hasan Suhrawardy, told reporters that search and rescue operations would continue until at least Saturday.
"We know a human being can survive for up to 72 hours in this situation. So our efforts will continue nonstop," he said.
Hundreds of rescuers, some crawling through the maze of rubble, spent a third day working amid the cries of the trapped and the wails of workers' relatives gathered outside the building, which housed numerous garment factories and a handful of other companies.
Police cordoned off the building site, pushing back thousands of bystanders and relatives, after rescue workers said the crowds were hampering their work.
Clashes later erupted between relatives of those still trapped and police officers, who used batons to disperse the mobs. Police said 50 people were injured in the clashes.
"We want to go inside the building and find our people now. They will die if we don't find them soon," said Shahinur Rahman, whose mother was missing.
Elsewhere, many thousands of workers from the hundreds of garment factories across the Savar industrial zone and other nearby industrial areas took to the streets to protest the collapse and poor safety standards.
Local news reports said protesters smashed dozens of vehicles at one strike Friday. Most of the other protests were largely peaceful.
Dozens of people have been rescued from the wreckage well after Wednesday morning's collapse.
Forty people had been trapped on the fourth floor of the Rana Plaza building until rescuers reached them Thursday evening. Twelve were soon freed, and crews worked to get the others out safely, said Brig. Gen. Shikder. Crowds at the scene burst into applause as survivors were brought out.