DHAKA, Bangladesh – A woman buried in the wreckage of a collapsed garment factory building for 17 days was rescued Friday, a miraculous moment set against a scene of unimaginable horror where the death toll is more than 1,000 and still rising.
The woman survived in a Muslim prayer room in the basement of the eight-story Rana Plaza building, where crews have been focused on recovering bodies, not rescuing survivors, for days. Trapped in wreckage finally exposed by heavy equipment, she waved a pipe to attract attention.
The crews ordered the cranes and bulldozers to immediately stop work and used handsaws and welding and drilling equipment to cut through the iron rod and debris still trapping her. They gave her water, oxygen and saline as they worked to free her.
When the woman, whom soldiers identified as Reshma, was freed after 40 minutes, the crowd erupted in wild cheers. She appeared to be in remarkably good shape despite her ordeal, and was rushed to a military hospital in an ambulance.
Abdur Razzak, a warrant officer with the military’s engineering department who first spotted her in the wreckage, said she could even walk.
“She was fine, no injuries. She was just trapped. The space was wide,” said Lt. Col. Moyeen, an army official at the scene.
She told her rescuers there were no more survivors in her area. Workers began tearing through the nearby rubble anyway, hoping to find another person alive.
The religious aspects of the rescue — in a Muslim prayer room, on Islam’s day of prayer — was not lost on the ecstatic crowd. Hundreds of people who had been engaged in the grim job of removing decomposing bodies from the site raised their hands together in prayer for her survival.
“Allah, you are the greatest, you can do anything. Please allow us all to rescue the survivor just found,” said a man on a loudspeaker leading the supplicants. “We seek apology for our sins. Please pardon us, pardon the person found alive.”
Workers at the site had been clearing the rubble since the collapse April 24. More than 2,500 people were rescued in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. However, no survivors had been found in the wreckage since April 28, when Shahin Akter was found amid the wreckage. As workers tried to free her, a fire broke out and she died of smoke inhalation.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina congratulated the rescuers.
“This is an unbelievable feat,” she was quoted as saying by her assistant, Mahbubul Haque Shakil.