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Survivor found 17 days after Dhaka building collapse

In a startling development, a woman trapped for 17 days beneath the rubble of the collapsed Rana Plaza building was pulled out alive out of the debris yesterday.

Reshma Begum
Determined to live: Rescue workers retrieve Reshma Begum from the rubble of the collapsed Rana Plaza building in Savar, Bangladesh, yesterday. Pic/AFP

19-year-old Reshma Begum, who identified herself as a dressmaker, worked on the 3rd floor of the collapsed eight-storey building. She emerged almost unscathed and had been trapped in a second floor prayer room and survived by scavenging for dried food in the wreckage around her, she said while speaking from her hospital bed.

She also told police she had made contact with three other people under the rubble, but one by one them fell silent -- rescue workers later recovered their bodies near from where Reshma was found.

Abdur Razzaq, an army sergeant who helped to rescue Reshma, said Reshma had been hitting the concrete with the pipe and he had heard the sound after bulldozers had lifted loose rubble covering the spot.

“I heard the sound and rushed towards the spot. I knelt down and heard a faint voice. ‘Sir, please help me,’ she cried,” said Razzaq. “When we first spoke to her, she wanted some food and water,” a soldier involved in the rescue operations said.

Begum, who was rushed to a nearby military hospital, told rescuers she was unhurt and had survived on biscuits found in the rucksacks of dead colleagues.

Beacon of hope
The workers were preparing to break a large slab with heavy machinery when the “miracle” took place. “As we made an announcement before starting to break the slab, asking whether there was anyone alive in there, we heard someone groan,” a rescuer said.

The woman waved a hand before telling them “in a feeble voice” that her name was Reshma and that she was “not much hurt”. Following a delicate operation lasting around 40 minutes, there were “wild cheers” from the crowd of rescuers and onlookers as the woman was extricated. Reshma’s body was covered in dust and her hair was completely white.

A woman wailing near the wreckage said Reshma was her niece. “We’d only expected to see her body,” she cried.

As Reshma was lifted from the rubble, crowds at the site broke into cheers of “God is great!” and rescue workers were seen wiping away tears. Army officers co-ordinating the rescue expressed astonishment at finding a survivor in the rubble at a time when the operation was winding down.

“It is incredible that someone could have survived in the wreckage 408 hours after the building came down,” Lieutenant Shah Jamal said. “Her will to live is amazing.”

Resham later told local TV from her hospital bed that she never dreamt she would see daylight again. “I heard voices of the rescue workers for several days. I kept hitting the wreckage with sticks and rods to attract their attention. No-one heard me,” she said. “I ate dried food for 15 days. The last two days I had nothing but water.”

The stunning discovery of a survivor transformed what had been an especially gloomy day in the recovery effort. A spokesman at the army control room coordinating the operation said yesterday the number of people confirmed to have been killed had reached 1,038.

Five garment factories operated inside the Rana Plaza building and more than 3,000 people were believed to be working when the structure collapsed on the morning of April 24. It is now considered the worst disaster in the history of the clothing industry. An initial government probe has blamed vibrations from giant generators combined with the vibrations of sewing machinery for the collapse of the building, At least 12 people have been arrested, including the owner of the building and owners of the garment factories.

Born again
Naqsha Bibi: Buried for 63 days in what had been her kitchen after 2005 Pakistan quake; survived on rotten food and water

Evans Monsignac: Trapped for 27 days in the rubble after 2010 Haiti tremor; stayed alive by drinking sewage water

Park Seung Hyun: pulled from the wreckage of a supermarket in South Korea in 1995, 16 days after it collapsed; drank rainwater

Pedrito Dy: spent 14 days in the ruins of a hotel after the 1990 Philippines tremorĀ 

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