SAVAR, Bangladesh (Reuters) - A young Bangladeshi woman who spent 17 days buried alive under a collapsed garments factory was rescued on Friday when astonished workmen heard a voice calling “save me, save me” from the rubble.
Pale, drawn but seemingly unhurt, Reshma Begum was cut from the ruins and hoisted onto a stretcher to wild cheers in scenes that captivated a nation which had long given up hope of finding any more survivors.
When the eight-storey building collapsed on April 24, Begum was trapped in a lightless, cell-like nook - alone, but alive. She managed to survive by taking sips from bottles of water buried with her.
“To save water I used to drink only a small quantity,” Begum, 19, told Somoy television from her hospital bed.
The 45-minute rescue was broadcast live on television. Cameras captured hope lighting up the faces of rescue workers peering into the hole, before Begum was carried out.
For a moment she was shown with her head lolling to the side, as if unconscious. Emergency workers placed an oxygen mask on her face and loaded her into an ambulance that sped away with its doors open.
Hours earlier, crews had pulled the 1,000th dead body from the wreckage.
By the end of the day, a spokesman at the army control room coordinating the operation said the number of people confirmed to have been killed had reached 1,050. It was the world’s worst industrial accident since Bhopal in India in 1984.
Major Moazzem Hossain said Begum had been discovered by chance after army engineers searching for more bodies began cutting through concrete beams, inadvertently allowing a ray of sunlight to pour into the space where she had been stuck.
Begum began waving an aluminium curtain rail through the gap to attract attention and cried out “Save me! Save me!”.
“We told her the whole country is with you, we will never leave this place until we rescue you,” Hossain told Reuters. “How can she have survived for 17 days? It must have been a miracle.”
Mohammad Rubel Rana, a workman who had been cutting iron rods at the site said he had alerted rescue crews after hearing her cries.
“I heard a faint voice saying ‘Save me, Save me’,” Rana told Reuters television. “She was given water, biscuits and oxygen.”
A doctor at the Combined Military Hospital in Savar where Begum was treated told reporters she was stable but needed rest.
Good news has been in short supply in Bangladesh, which is simultaneously reeling from the aftermath of the disaster and its worst bout of violent since independence in 1971 ahead of elections due early next year.
A series of deadly incidents at factories has focused global attention on safety standards in Bangladesh’s booming garment industry. Eight people were killed in a fire at a factory this week, which an industry association said on Friday may have been started deliberately.
About 2,500 people were rescued from Rana Plaza, in the industrial suburb of Savar, 20 miles (30 km) northwest of Dhaka, including many injured, but there is no official estimate of the numbers still missing.
The disaster, believed to have been triggered when generators were started up during a blackout, has put the spotlight on Western retailers who use the impoverished South Asian nation as a source of cheap goods.
Nine people have been arrested in connection with the disaster, including the building’s owner and bosses of the factories it housed.
Reporting by Ruma Paul and Matthew Green; Writing by Matthew Green; Editing by Andrew Heavens