Bangladesh Exults as Garment Worker, Against All Odds, Is Pulled From Rubble

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DHAKA, Bangladesh -- A woman trapped for 17 days beneath the rubble of a collapsed building on the outskirts of Dhaka was discovered alive on Friday and then rushed to a nearby military hospital after rescuers pulled her free.

The woman, whose name is Reshma, had apparently been in the basement of the building, possibly in a Muslim prayer room. Rescuers, speaking live on national television from the wreckage site in Savar, said they were clearing debris on Friday afternoon when they saw a pipe moving. It turned out to be Reshma, shaking the pipe from below, trying to gain attention.

"Save me!" rescuers say they heard her shouting.

The stunning discovery transformed what had been an especially gloomy day in the recovery effort, as the death toll pushed past 1,000 victims. More than 3,000 people were believed to be working at five clothing factories in the building, Rana Plaza, when it collapsed on the morning of April 24 in what is now considered the worst disaster in the history of the garment industry.

Reshma's rescue was broadcast on television across Bangladesh. She was wearing a purple and red salwar kameez as she was removed from the rubble. One of the rescuers, a soldier with the Bangladeshi Army, told television crews that Reshma had discovered food and water that had lasted until two days ago

Another rescuer, Lieutenant Colonel Moazzem, told Bangladesh's state news agency that he and another soldier discovered Reshma after cutting a hole to the basement.

"I told her, 'Mother, don't be afraid, we are here to rescue you,' " said Colonel Moazzem, according to the agency. "Would you like a drink of water?" He told reporters that Reshma was given saline and biscuits before rescuers removed her from the wreckage.

Ali Ahmed Khan, director general of the Bangladesh Fire Service, said Reshma was apparently inside a Muslim prayer room, which had oxygen and enough clear space for her to stand up.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was rushing to the military hospital where Reshma is being treated.

Days earlier, rescuers had given up any hope of finding more survivors and had started using heavy machinery to more quickly clear debris from the site. Before Friday, the last survivor was thought to have been a woman named Shaheena; rescuers spent more than 20 hours on April 28 trying to save Shaheena before a fire broke out, killing her. The authorities have said more than 2,000 people were rescued or escaped on their own.

Mr. Khan, the fire service director general, said work crews would "for the time being" suspend the use of heavy machinery and resume rescue searches in the remaining rubble.

"We are very delighted," said Mr. Khan, noting that rescuers had taken pains to work carefully in case someone was still alive. "The army and fire service has been working very, very cautiously."

The rescue brought to mind a similar scene from Haiti in 2010 when a 16-year-old girl was plucked from beneath the rubble of a collapsed house 15 days after a deadly earthquake struck outside Port-au-Prince. A Haitian man, who was buried in the rubble of a market, was found 27 days after the quake. Rescue workers said it was very rare for people trapped in rubble to survive beyond six days without food or water.

The death toll, now at 1,021, has been rising quickly in recent days, and will probably keep climbing, as work crews are now removing rubble from some of the most heavily damaged sections of the building.

Located in an industrial suburb of Dhaka, the capital, Rana Plaza exemplified many of safety problems plaguing the garment industry in Bangladesh, the world's second-leading garment exporter, trailing only China. The authorities in Bangladesh now say the building was illegally constructed, with permits obtained through political influence. The owner, Sohel Rana, now in jail, was illegally adding upper floors to the structure at the time the building collapsed, officials said.

The accident has intensified pressure on global brands and retailers that buy clothing from factories in Bangladesh to take action to improve worker safety. In November, at least 112 workers died in a fire at the Tazreen Fashions factory, which was producing clothing for Sears, Walmart and other global brands and retailers. Earlier this week, a smaller factory fire killed at least eight people.

The Rana Plaza disaster led to nationwide mourning in Bangladesh as well as outrage because it appears that the accident could have been averted. A day before the collapse, an engineer examined cracks in the structure and warned Mr. Rana, as well as owners of the garment factories, that the building was unsafe and should be closed. Instead, workers were told to come to their factories the next morning, and not long after the shifts began, the building collapsed.

Julfikar Ali Manik reported from Dhaka and Jim Yardley reported from New Delhi.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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