Woman found alive in wreckage of Bangladesh building

Survivor had been breathing through pipe from inside wreckage and had sustained no serious injury

Rescuers carry Reshma Begum, pulled out from the rubble of a building that collapsed in Saver, near Dhaka in Bangladesh yesterday. Photograph: AP Photo/Parvez Ahmad Rony

Rescuers carry Reshma Begum, pulled out from the rubble of a building that collapsed in Saver, near Dhaka in Bangladesh yesterday. Photograph: AP Photo/Parvez Ahmad Rony


First came the collapse. At 9am in the morning, as the day’s work started, a ripping, tearing sound, clouds of choking dust, the screams of colleagues and finally silence. Then came fire, rain, and 16 long days in the darkness under the rubble surrounded by the decaying corpses of her friends and colleagues. Yesterday came hope.

Throughout the morning, Reshma Begum, a seamstress who worked on the second floor of the Rana Plaza in a suburb of Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, heard rescuers close by. But none heard her. “I heard voices of the rescue workers. I kept hitting the wreckage with sticks and rods to attract their attention,” she told reporters from a hospital bed.

At about 3pm, Abdur Razzaq, an army sergeant deployed to help search the 7,000 tonnes of rubble that was all that remained of the Rana Plaza, picked up the faint sound of metallic tapping. “I heard the sound and rushed towards the spot. I knelt down and heard a faint voice. ‘Sir, please help me,’ she cried,” Sgt Razzaq said.

The woman had been breathing through a pipe from inside the wreckage, Sgt Razzaq said, and had sustained no serious injury.

The collapse of the factory, in an industrial zone on the outskirts of Dhaka, prompted widespread criticism of local authorities, employers and international retailers such as Primark (Penneys), which were supplied with clothes by businesses run from its upper floors.

Primark said yesterday it was “working on a comprehensive support package for workers affected by the disaster in Bangladesh”. A statement said that once a completed list of all employees had been established, it would begin assisting families.

Given up hope
About two-thirds of the more than 3,000 workers in the building managed to flee before it collapsed. But as many as 1,500 may have been buried by rubble. With an official death toll standing at 1,050, relatives and rescue workers had given up hope of finding anyone else alive. “We were removing slabs,” said Lt Col S M Imran-Uz-Zaman, an army spokesman at the site. “We immediately halted work in all other areas and focused on the rescue.”

Sgt Razzaq said he had heard Ms Begum’s tapping after bulldozers had lifted loose rubble that had been covering the spot. Rescuers saw her standing in the gap between a beam of concrete and the slab.

“When I flashed the torchlight I saw a lot of space and she was walking,” said Monwar, a worker at the site.

Daily life in much of the capital ground to a halt as Dhaka’s inhabitants watched the rescue unfold live on local television.

Tensions were high. An earlier bid to rescue a woman found in the debris more than 100 hours after the building collapsed went disastrously wrong when sparks from a grinder ignited a fire, killing her and fatally burning a rescue worker.

For an hour, workers used hammers, drills and saws to remove rods and concrete blocks. Others prayed. Eventually a military engineer was able to climb into the space where Ms Begum had spent two weeks.

Then, among cheers of “God is great!”, the young woman, with the pink scarf she had worn to work more than two weeks ago around her shoulders, was eased out and on to a stretcher. Rescue workers were seen wiping tears as an ambulance drew away, taking the young woman to a military hospital nearby.

Ms Begum told rescuers she had survived by scavenging for biscuits in the rucksacks of dead colleagues and drinking rainwater. “No one heard me. It was so bad for me. I never dreamed I’d see the daylight again,” she told the private Somoy TV from her hospital bed.

Dried food
She told the channel she had lived on dried food for 15 days. “There was some dried food around me. 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.”

Ms Begum’s mother and sister were reported to have rushed to the hospital to meet her. Army officers co-ordinating the rescue said they were astonished by the woman’s strength. “It is incredible that someone could have survived in the wreckage 408 hours after the building came down,” Shah Jamal, an army officer, said. “Her will to live is amazing.”

More than 100 more bodies were found in the rubble of the Rana Plaza yesterday. Most are so decomposed that physical recognition is impossible. – (Guardian service)