Rescuers find lucky survivor in collapsed Bangladeshi building

Teenage girl pulled from rubble 17 days after Dhaka building collapse

AFP-JIJI, AP

Bangladeshi doctors treating a “miracle” survivor pulled from the ruins of a collapsed building after 17 days said Saturday she was doing “great” and had been reunited with her family.

Reshma Begum, 18, a seamstress dug out from the rubble of the garment factory complex Friday, “never gave up hope” she would be rescued from the ruins of one of the world’s worst industrial disasters, Fakrul Islam, an army doctor, said.

“She’s doing great,” he said after speaking to her Saturday morning, adding she was suffering from the effects of malnutrition after surviving on just “four pieces of biscuits.”

“She’s eating food and fruits. All her vital organs are OK,” Islam said, as the death toll from the disaster reached 1,084.

Reshma had a “very good sleep and was reunited with her family including her mother, brother and sister,” army Capt. Ibrahimul Islam said.

He said Reshma told him she found the biscuits and water in an air pocket she reached after the April 24 cave-in and added she might regain more memories as her condition improves.

“Only then we can get a clear picture of how she survived miraculously for 17 days under such hot, humid conditions,” he said.

Rescuers found her hours after officials announced the death toll had surged past the 1,000 mark and they had long abandoned hope of locating more survivors.

They were stunned to hear a woman’s voice calling for help before managing to free her in a 45-minute operation aired live on television and watched by crowds at the scene who were asked by clerics to pray for her rescue.

Cries of “Allahu Akbar” — “God is great” — rang out as she was pulled from the wreckage.

After emerging, Reshma managed a weak smile to onlookers before being whisked to a waiting ambulance and away from the ruined Rana Plaza complex on Dhaka’s outskirts.

“I called but nobody heard me. I heard noises, but nobody listened to me,” she told Somoy TV later in an interview.

Her family, from a remote northern village, was overjoyed at her survival, calling it a “miracle.”

“We had lost all hope of finding her alive. We visited every hospital . . . the mortuaries and checked every dead body,” Reshma’s brother, Zahidul Islam, said.

Ahmed Ali, Bangladesh’s fire services chief, said Reshma was found between a beam and column in the wreckage of the nine-story complex.

“We first saw a pipe moving. We removed some gravel and concrete. We found her standing,” said Maj. Moazzem, who goes by one name.

Jamil Ahmed, another rescuer, said bulldozers turning over rubble in the quest to recover bodies were stopped as soon as rescuers realized Reshma was alive.

“She told us: ‘My name is Reshma, please save me, please save me, brother,’ ” he said.

“Maj. Moazzem slipped into the hole and took her into his arms and then we pulled her out.”

Her long hair got stuck under the rubble, but she used sharp objects to cut it and free herself, said Maj. Gen. Chowdhury Hasan Suhrawardy, head of the local military units in charge of the disaster site.

The rescue of Reshma has brought “renewed vigor” to the recovery efforts, army rescue officer Maj. Delwar Hossain said.

“We’ve got new spirit. We’re working extremely carefully in case we have another miraculous survivor.”

Army spokesman Lt. Mir Rabbi said the death toll reached 1,084 on Saturday as dozens more bodies were recovered overnight Friday.

More than 3,000 workers were on shift when the building caved in. Most earned around $40 a month to make clothing for Western brands including Britain’s Primark and Italy’s Benetton.

A preliminary government probe blamed vibrations from four giant generators on the upper floors for triggering the collapse.

Police have so far arrested 12 people, including the plaza’s owner and four factory bosses, over the tragedy.

Begum’s sister, Asma, said she and her mother kept a vigil for the seamstress, who is from the rural Dinajpur district, some 270 km to the north. She said they had been losing hope amid the endless string of grim days, when scores of bodies but no survivors were removed from the rubble.

“We got her back just when we had lost all our hope to find her alive,” Asma told Somoy TV. “God is so merciful.”

The women rushed to the hospital to see her.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called Begum in the hospital, and the rescued woman began crying on the phone. She told Hasina, “I am fine, please pray for me,” it was reported.