'I never dreamed I'd see the daylight again': a joyful end to Reshma’s 17-day – but death toll in Dhaka clothing factory collapse in Bangladesh goes past 1,000

Rescuers free a woman as the latest death toll reaches above 1,000

To be buried alive, to hear the voices of the living but to be unable to make them hear you: for much of this week, already entombed for a fortnight, that was the nightmare endured by Reshma, the Bangladeshi woman miraculously pulled out of the ruins of Rana Plaza on the outskirts of Dhaka afternoon, where at least 1,043 of her co-workers have died, a figure that is likely to climb further. 

“I heard the voices of the rescue workers for the past several days,” she said from the hospital where she was recovering. “I kept hitting the wreckage with sticks and rods to attract their attention. No one heard me. I never dreamed I’d see the daylight again.”

As cranes and earthmovers smashed through the concrete and steel rods in the ruins of the nine-storey building yesterday, Bangladesh’s worst-ever building collapse became the worst industrial accident in the world since the Bhopal gas disaster of 1984.

The bodies hauled from the wreckage now were so badly decomposed as to be unidentifiable. No one had been found alive since 28 April, and that last find ended in tragedy when sparks from the rescuer’s power saw started a fire that killed both him and the trapped woman.

So why imagine, prior to smashing another slab of concrete, that today could be different? But the usual precautions were taken. And then the miracle happened. “As we made an announcement before starting to break the slab asking whether there was anyone alive in there, we heard someone groan,” a worker told Dhaka’s Daily Star. They called out to her, asking if she was badly hurt. “Not much,” she replied. What was her name? “Reshma,” came the feeble voice.

Immediately the cranes and bulldozers were ordered to stop work. As the rescuers inched nearer with handsaws and drills, words of supplication came over the loudspeakers. “Allah, you are the greatest. Please allow us to rescue the survivor just found.” This was Friday, the day of prayer, and Reshma had survived for 17 days in the building’s prayer room. “We ask pardon for our sins,” came the voice through the loudspeaker. “Please pardon  us, pardon the person found alive.”

As the men drew closer, the trapped woman waggled a pipe to indicate her location. “We first saw a pipe moving,” said rescuer Major Moazzem. “We removed some gravel and concrete. We found her standing.” After her uniquely long ordeal, Reshma was not only alive but well. Ahmed Ali, chief of Bangladesh’s fire service, explained that she was found in a gap between a beam and a column. “She was fine, no injuries,” another army officer, Colonel Moyeen, said. “The space was wide.”

As her rescuers passed her water, biscuits, oxygen and saline, Reshma chatted with them. When she was freed after 40 minutes, the site erupted in cheers. Hauled out on a stretcher in her mauve sari, she managed a weak smile for her rescuers.

Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, under fierce attack for her government’s failure to ensure the safety of its workforce – eight more people died in a factory fire earlier this week – seized on this crumb of mercy. When they spoke on the telephone, Reshma burst into tears then said: “I am fine, please pray for me.”

Speaking from hospital, Reshma explained how she had survived: “There was some dried food around me. I ate the dried food for 15 days. The last two days I had nothing but water.” Major General Chowdhury Hasan Suhrawardy, head of local military units, told reporters: “Reshma told me there were three others with her. They died. We will continue our search.”

Staying alive: Stories of survival

Forty-year-old Naqsha Bibi survived 63 days buried in the remains of her kitchen in Pakistan-administered Kashmir following a massive earthquake in 2005. She survived on rotten food and water trickling in from a stream, and weighed just 35kg when she was found.

Rice seller Evans Monsignac was trapped for 27 days after a 2010 earthquake flattened Port-au-Prince in Haiti. Unable to move, he survived by drinking sewage that flowed beneath his feet in the rubble.

Park Seung Hyun survived on rainwater for 16 days after a South Korean department store collapsed in 1995, killing 502 people.

Pedrito Dy spent 14 days under the rubble of a hotel in the Philippines, following an earthquake in 1990.

Oscar Quine

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'