Bangladeshi emergency crews clawing through the wreckage of the Rana Plaza on Friday discovered a garment worker who survived the searing heat and crush of rubble for 17 days, escaping only with minor injuries.
The startling find of Reshma was a riveting, uplifting moment for this country after an eight-storey building collapsed on April 24, taking more than 1,000 lives and bringing international attention to the precarious working conditions in Bangladesh’s textile industry, which supplies Western brands such as Loblaw Cos Ltd.’s Joe Fresh.
More than two weeks after tragedy struck at the Rana Plaza, the rescue strategy there had already shifted from the delicate work of finding survivors to using heavy machinery to locate bodies.
Reshma, 21, had worked on the third floor at New Wave Fashions as a helper, employed there for only three weeks before the collapse.
“It’s good to see the light after so many days. I was in the dark for 17 days,” she said before being rushed to the Combined Military Hospital in Savar, the area outside Dhaka where the disaster happened.
On Friday around 2:45 p.m., volunteer rescuer Miraz Hossain was searching the debris when he spotted something twitching. “I saw a pipe moving under a collapsed concrete pillar,” he told The Globe and Mail. “Immediately, I came to know that somebody was alive there.”
As Mr. Hossain recalled, he and three other workers, including a soldier, found the woman on the first floor. “I called, ‘Is somebody there?’”
Identifying herself as Reshma, she called out, “Bachao. Bachao,” or “Save me, Save me.”
Reshma later told local TV she had heard rescuers earlier and had called out to them but no one could hear her. “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.”
Once the military heard about a survivor, they called off the heavy machinery that had been removing debris and started working by hand.
Rescuers said Reshma was stuck on a floor that was once a retail area. She had found a safe place where there was air circulation and she also managed to grab one bottle of water from a shop, she said, saying she sipped sparingly from it in order to survive.
Since she appeared to be in good health, the rescuers asked whether she could hold on a bit more so they could work their way into the rubble by hand, to avoid the risk of electrical fires.
Reshma’s startling rescue offered a grim contrast to the vigorous but doomed operation to save Shaheena, a single mother who was trapped under the rubble for 100 hours.
A firefighter discovered her in the debris on April 28, but before they could pull her out, a fire caused by electrical equipment took her life.
Dressed in a violet kamiz and pink scarf, Reshma was pulled out from the wreckage at 4:16 p.m. after a 90-minute rescue operation.
Her sister, Fatema, who previously had been praying that they could at least find Reshma’s body so they could give her a proper burial, was overjoyed when she saw the news on television. “When I confirmed that my missing sister was alive, it proved that God really exists,” she told The Globe and Mail.
“We have to check whether there is any biochemical change in her body due to her stay inside the debris for such a long time,” a doctor at Savar’s hospital said.
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina paid a visit to Reshma there.
Later Friday, a rescue team, including Mr. Hossain, looked for more survivors, but didn’t find any. “We saw a hand. So at least one dead body is there,” he said.
But when asked how he felt about rescuing Reshma, he said: “This is the best thing I did. This is the best day of my life.”