‘I never dreamed I’d see daylight again’

Rescuers carry Reshma Begum, 18, who had been buried for 17 days after the clothing factory collapsed, killing more than 1,000 people. Picture: AP

A seamstress buried in the wreckage of a collapsed garment factory building for 17 days was rescued yesterday — a miraculous moment set against a scene of horror, where the death toll shot past 1,000.

Reshma Begum, 18, survived, in remarkably good shape, by eating dried food that was in her area and drinking a limited amount of water which was in bottles around her.

She was found on the second floor of the eight-storey Rana Plaza building, near a Muslim prayer room in a gap between a beam and column in the wreckage.

Crews have been focused on recovering bodies for much of the past two weeks.

“I heard voices of the rescue workers for the past several days. I kept hitting the wreckage with sticks and rods just to attract their attention,” she told Somoy TV from her hospital bed.

“No one heard me. It was so bad for me. I never dreamed I’d see the daylight again,” she said.

“There was some dried food around me. I ate the dried food for 15 days. The last two days I had nothing but water. I used to drink only a limited quantity of water to save it. I had some bottles of water around me,” she said.

Once Reshma finally got their attention, the crews ordered the cranes andbulldozers to immediately stop work and used handsaws and welding and drilling equipment to cut through the iron rod and debris still trapping her. They gave her water, oxygen, and saline as they worked to free her.

When Reshma was freed after 40 minutes, the crowd erupted in wild cheers. She was rushed by ambulance to a military hospital, but her rescuers said she was in good condition.

Abdur Razzak, a warrant officer with the military’s engineering department who first spotted her in the wreckage, said she could even walk.

“She was fine, no injuries. She was just trapped. The space was wide,” Lieutenant Colonel Moyeen, an army official at the scene said.

Reshma told her rescuers there were no more survivors in her area.

Workers began tearing through the nearby rubble anyway, hoping to find another person alive. Major General Chowdhury Hasan Suhrawardy, the head of the local military units said: “Reshma told me there were three others with her.

“They died. She did not see anybody else alive there. We will continue our search until a survivor or a dead body is there.”

The woman survived for more than two weeks in temperatures that touched over 30C.

Reshma scrounged for whatever food she could find, said Gen Suhrawardy.

Then, when the workers with bulldozers and cranes got close to the area where she was trapped, she took a still pipe and began banging it to attract attention, Mr Razzak said. The workers ran into the dark rubble, eventually getting flashlights, to free her, he said.

Reshma’s mother and her sister, Asma, rushed to the hospital to meet her.

“It was a miracle. We lost all hopes of finding her alive. We visited every hospital in Dhaka and Savar. We visited the mortuaries and checked every dead body they pulled out,” said Reshma’s brother, Zahidul Islam. “I saw her face as they brought her out. There she was — my sister.”

Hundreds of people who had been engaged in the grim job of removing decomposing bodies from the site raised their hands together in prayer for her survival.

“Allah, you are the greatest, you can do anything. Please allow us all to rescue the survivor just found,” said a man on a loudspeaker leading the supplicants. “We seek apology for our sins. Please pardon us, pardon the person found alive.”

Workers at the site had been clearing the rubble since the collapse on Apr 24. More than 2,500 people were rescued in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

However, no survivors had been found in the wreckage since Apr 28, when Shahin Akter was found amid the wreckage.

As workers tried to free her, a fire broke out and she died of smoke inhalation.

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina called Reshma in the hospital and the rescued woman began crying on the phone. She told Mr Hasina: “I am fine, please pray for me.”.

Ms Hasina, whose government has come under criticism for its lax oversight over the powerful garment industry, was racing to the hospital by helicopter to meet her, and congratulated the rescuers, officials said.

“This is an unbelievable feat,” she said.

The death toll from the disaster passed 1,000 yesterday, with officials confirming that 1,038 bodies had been recovered from the rubble of the fallen building, which had housed five garment factories employing thousands of workers.

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