By Rafiqur Rahman
May 10,2013 (Reuters) – Rescuers pulled a woman on Friday from the rubble of a Bangladesh garment factory 17 days after it collapsed, astonishing workmen who had been searching for bodies of victims of a disaster that has killed more than 1,000 people.
Hundreds of onlookers burst into cheers as army engineers pulled the woman from the basement of the building after a workman helping to clear the wreckage reported hearing her faint cries of “Save me, save me” from beneath the ruins.
Pale, drawn and seemingly unable to walk, the woman, identified by Bangladeshi media only as Reshma, was hoisted out of the rubble on a stretcher, then loaded into an ambulance in scenes broadcast live on television.
Mohammad Rubel Rana, a workman who had been cutting iron rods, said he had alerted rescue crews after hearing a feeble voice.
“I heard a faint voice saying ‘Save me, Save me’,” Rana told Reuters television. “She was given water, biscuits and oxygen.”
“She has been rescued and taken to a military hospital,” said Bangladesh’s army spokesman Shahinul Islam.
Rescuers speculated that she may have survived by drinking water that had pooled in the site when firemen doused a fire that had broken out earlier in the rescue effort.
It was not clear if she was one of the thousands of garment workers who had been working in the eight-storey building, which collapsed on April 24, a day after its owner assured factory owners and news crews it would stand for “a century”.
The woman was found hours after the death toll from the world’s worst industrial accident since the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India climbed above 1,000 as rescuers struggled to end the salvage operation.
SPOTLIGHT ON RETAILERS
Bodies were still being pulled from the rubble of the Rana Plaza complex, and on Friday a spokesman at the army control room coordinating the operation said the number of people confirmed to have been killed had reached 1,045.
A series of deadly incidents at factories have 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 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.
Hundreds of relatives remained at the site, some holding up photographs of family members. Rescue workers have found it increasingly difficult to identify decomposing bodies and are using ID cards found on them or their mobile phones to do so.
“A total of 156 unidentified victims have been buried,” said Dhaka District Administrator Mohammad Yousuf Harun, adding that DNA samples taken from the bodies had been preserved so tests could be done if relatives come forward later.
The government has accused the owners and builders of the complex of using shoddy construction materials, including substandard rods, bricks and cement, and failing to obtain the necessary clearances.
Bangladesh’s garment industry, which accounts for 80 percent of its exports, has seen a series of deadly accidents, including a fire in November that killed 112 people.
(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Matthew Green and Alex Richardson)