SAVAR, Bangladesh — The fugitive owner of an illegally constructed building that collapsed and killed at least 377 people was captured Sunday by a commando force as he tried to flee into India. At the disaster site, meanwhile, fire broke out in the wreckage and forced authorities to suspend the search for survivors temporarily.
Mohammed Sohel Rana was arrested in the western border town of Benapole, said Jahangir Kabir Nanak, junior minister for local government. Rana was brought back by helicopter to the capital of Dhaka, where he faced charges of negligence.
Rana's capture was announced by loudspeaker at the disaster site, drawing cheers and applause from those awaiting the outcome of a continuing search-and-rescue operation for survivors of Wednesday's collapse. Several others also have been arrested in connection with the collapse.
Many of those killed were workers at clothing factories in the building, known as the Rana Plaza, and the collapse was the deadliest disaster to hit the garment industry in Bangladesh that is worth $20 billion annually and is a mainstay of the economy.
A small-time politician from the ruling Awami League party, Rana had been on the run since the building collapsed. He last appeared in public Tuesday in front of the Rana Plaza after huge cracks appeared in the building. Witnesses said he assured tenants, including five garment factories, that the building was safe.
The fire that broke out late Sunday night sent smoke pouring from the piles of shattered concrete and halted some of the rescue efforts — including a bid to free a woman who was found trapped in the rubble.
The blaze was caused by sparks as rescuers tried to cut through a steel rod to reach the woman, said a volunteer, Syed Al-Amin Roman. Officials believe the fire is likely to have killed the woman, said army spokesman Shahinul Islam.
A garment manufacturers' group said the factories in the building employed 3,122 workers, but it was not clear how many were inside when it fell. About 2,500 survivors have been accounted for.