“I heard voices of the rescue workers for the past several days,” the woman, known only by her first name, Reshma, told Bangladeshi television Somoy TV from her hospital bed.
“I kept hitting the wreckage with sticks and rods just to attract their attention.”
Rescue workers say she survived by eating dried food and leftover water she was able to scavenge from her area. Some reports suggest she found the food in bags belonged to her dead co-workers. But after 15 days the food supply ran out, according to reports, and survived on water alone for the past two.
“No one heard me,” she said. “It was so bad for me. I never dreamed I’d see the daylight again.”
But today, she did. After more than 17 days of living alone, afraid, and in the dark, buried under eight stories of concrete rubble, rescuers pulled her to safety. After hearing her voice, they ordered heavy rescue machinery to stop digging, and according to reports, used saws and drills to cut through debris that was trapping her.
As news that a survivor had been discovered, anticipation among the large crowd gathered around the site of the collapsed building grew. Prayers were recited on a loudspeaker for her recovery, while many held their hands to sky invoking help from God.
When she was finally freed, rescuers discovered she was in shockingly good health for someone who had been through such a terrible ordeal. Rescuers believe she was on the second floor of the building when it collapsed.
In addition to the sheer weight of the structure, what makes her survival more incredible are the torrid temperatures she endured while trapped. The heat typically reached close to a hundred degrees during the days while she was buried in the rubble.
More than 2,500 people were rescued in the aftermath of the collapse on April 24, but rescuers had long abandoned hope of finding any more survivors. Their rescue efforts were complicated several days later when a fire broke out underneath the rubble and the Bangladeshi government called off the official rescue effort.
The official death toll now stands at more than 1,000. Many of the dead are workers who toiled away at one of the building’s many garment factories, earning less than $40 a day. Government officials have since charged the building’s owner, saying he illegally added three extra floors to the building when it was only zoned for five. Police footage also showed large cracks had appeared in the building’s support pillars the day before the collapse. Police ordered the building evacuated, but factory owners reportedly ordered their employees back inside once inspectors had left.
Bangladesh’s garment industry is worth $20 billion a year, with nearly $5 billion worth of exports annually to the United States.
Several western clothing labels have since been linked to the factories operating in the building, raising questions about whether western companies where aware of the safety violations at the building, and whether western pressure led the factories to stay open when clearly, it shouldn’t have been.