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.
Mohammed Sohel Rana was arrested in the western Bangladesh border town of Benapole, said Jahangir Kabir Nanak, junior minister for local government. Rana was brought back by helicopter to the capital, 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.
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.
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. At least three rescuers were injured in the fire, he said. It forced them to retreat while firefighters frantically hosed down the flames.
Officials believe the fire is likely to have killed the trapped woman, said army spokesman Shahinul Islam. Rescue workers had delayed the use of heavy equipment for several hours in the hope that she could be extricated from the rubble first. But with the woman presumed dead, they began using heavy equipment around midnight.
An exhausted and disheveled Rana was brought before reporters briefly at the Dhaka headquarters of the commando team, the Rapid Action Battalion.
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.
A bank and some shops on the first floor closed Wednesday after police ordered an evacuation, but managers of the garment factories on the upper floor told workers to continue their shifts.
Hours later, the Rana Plaza was reduced to rubble, crushing most victims under massive blocks of concrete.
On Saturday, police arrested three owners of two factories.
Three floors of the eight-story building apparently were built illegally.