Updated: 05/10/2013 21:12 | By Agence France-Presse

Miracle survivor pulled from Bangladesh ruins

Bangladeshi rescuers pulled a woman alive from the ruins of a collapsed garment factory complex on Friday after she spent 17 days trapped in a basement under the rubble.


Miracle survivor pulled from Bangladesh ruins

Bangladeshi rescuers retrieve garment worker Reshma from the rubble of a collapsed building in Savar on May 10, 2013, 17 days after the tragedy.

Hours after officials had announced that the death toll had surged past the 1,000 mark, recovery teams who had long given up any hope of finding more survivors were stunned to hear the voice of a woman calling out for help.

They then managed to pull her from the ruins in an operation broadcast live on television and watched over by growing crowds at the scene who were asked by clerics to pray for her.

After she was brought to the surface she was whisked away to a waiting ambulance, but managed a weak smile to the people gathered at the ruined Rana Plaza complex on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka.

Rescuers said she appeared to have lost a lot of weight but there were no other apparent signs of injury.

Army Captain Ibrahimul Islam told AFP that the woman was called Reshma but he did not know her family name.

"She has been taken to the Savar Combined Military Hospital and admitted in the intensive care unit. She is fine," he said.

Bangladesh's fire service chief Ahmed Ali told AFP that Reshma was found in a gap between a beam and column in the wreckage of the nine-storey complex, which caved in on April 24, and appeared to have had access to water.

The army officer who brought Reshma out of the rubble said that she had been found standing amid the ruins.

"We first saw a pipe moving. We removed some gravel and concrete. We found her standing," Major Moazzem, who uses only one name, told Somoy TV.

"We gave her food and assured her that she would be rescued. We conducted the rescue work for 45 minutes. We brought her out by using light hammers, hand saw and drilling machines."

Jamil Ahmed, a fire service officer who was part of the rescue team, told AFP that the bulldozers and cranes which had been churning through the rubble had been ordered to stop work as soon as it emerged that Reshma was alive.

"We dug a hole and there she was, standing up. She told us: 'My name is Reshma, please save me, please save me, brother'.

"We used light hammers, a hand saw and drilling machines to open up the gap.

"There was an air pocket inside and she had enough space to crawl about comfortably.

"Major Moazzem slipped into the hole and took her into his arms and then we pulled her out."

Another rescuer said that Reshma had had access to food supplies for the first fortnight of her ordeal but had run out two days ago.

"She said she has not eaten for the last two days. She said she has eaten some dried food like biscuits," said the rescuer.

"She said she had found a safe place and found some air and light."

A government minister told reporters that Reshma had wept tears of joy during a brief phone conversation with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

"The prime minister has offered special prayers for her and talked to her by phone. During the conservation, Reshma cried," said Jahangir Kabir Nanak, the deputy local government minister.

Reshma's rescue is one of the most remarkable of recent years, although it is not the longest survival after a disaster on record.

In Pakistan, on December 12, 2005, a 40-year-old woman was rescued from the ruins of her house in Kashmir, two months after a quake ravaged the region.

A 27-year-old man spent 27 days buried under the rubble of an earthquake which flattened large parts of Haiti in 2010.

News of the rescue came as recovery teams were preparing to wrap up their work at the site after discovering scores more corpses in the tangle of concrete overnight.

A spokesman for the army, which is overseeing the recovery operation, said the toll had reached 1,045, making it one of the world's deadliest industrial disasters.

More than 3,000 workers were on shift on the morning of April 24 when the building suddenly caved in.

Most were earning around $40 a month to make clothing for Western brands such as Italy's Benetton, Britain's Primark and the Spanish label Mango.

The preliminary findings of a government probe blamed vibrations from four giant generators on the upper floors for triggering the collapse.

Police have arrested 12 people including the plaza's owner and four factory bosses for forcing people to work on the day of the disaster, even though cracks appeared in the structure the day before.

The collapse was the latest in a string of disasters to blight the textile industry, with a factory fire last November killing 111 workers.

Bangladesh is the world's second-largest apparel maker and the $20 billion industry accounted for up to 80 percent of annual exports last year.

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