Bangladesh's improbable survivor making progress

Story highlights

  • "Reshma is improving steadily," her doctor says
  • Visitors to the ICU are limited to family so she can rest
  • "She is still traumatized," he says

A day after her discovery alive amid the wreckage of a building that had entombed her since it collapsed here on April 24, Reshma Begum is fragile but recovering, her doctor said Saturday.

"Reshma is improving steadily," Col. Azizur Rahman told reporters, adding that visitors to the 19-year-old mother in the intensive care unit at Combined Military Hospital have been limited to relatives so that she can rest.

"Too many questions from curious visitors would remind her all the more about frightening experience in the trap," he said.

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Begum had experienced "metabolic changes" during her confinement that have affected her, Rahman said.

"Because of these changes, what the patient speaks about might not be fully factually accurate; this is what we are seeing in Reshma."

He added, "She is still traumatized, gets frightened and wakes up every now and then. Our nurses try to comfort her holding her hands."

The state-run news agency, Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha, quoted an unidentified physician as saying that Begum had begun eating regular food, but would need to remain in the hospital for a few more days.

One of her four siblings, Sadekul, a rickshaw driver, visited her Saturday morning, it said. "Reshma became happy after seeing me and minutes after she started crying," he told the news agency.

Begum told rescuers that dry food and water scattered through the ruins in the aftermath of the collapse of the nine-story building on the outskirts of the capital city of Dhaka had kept her alive.

"I ate biscuits and water," she told rescuers. "But the stock dwindled two days ago."

A seven-member team of specialists that included a psychiatrist was guiding her treatment, which included saline and antibiotics, BSS reported. Her kidney function, which can be affected by dehydration, had improved 50%, it said.

Begum's confinement inside the collapsed remnants of the second floor ended on Friday afternoon, more than 16 days after it began, when she poked a stick out of a small hole that had opened 7 feet above her during the cleanup operation, which is ongoing.

A rescuer noticed the stick and alerted others, who halted the use of heavy equipment and established contact with the trapped woman, said Lt. Col. Moazzem Hossain.

Rescuers then drilled a second hole through which Hossain was lowered.

"The first word was, 'Save me, save me,' " he said. "She was very afraid, she was hyper-panicked you can say," he said. "We are here," he told her. "We are not going until we save you."

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Hossain then hoisted the woman into the opening, and rescuers above completed the job as hundreds of onlookers erupted in cheers.

Hossain said the trapped woman had had enough room to stand and to sit, but not enough room to lie down during her more than 16 days of confinement.

She told doctors at the military hospital in Savar that she was wracked by thirst for the last two days of her saga, all of which was spent in the dark between floors that had pancaked in the collapse.

BSS said Begum had been working as a swing operator for Phantom Garment, which had a factory in Rana Plaza.

Though rescue workers had pulled more than 2,400 survivors, many of them garment workers, to safety, 10 days had elapsed since anyone had been found alive.

The Bangladeshi government has faced criticism for failing to tighten safety standards in the country's thousands of garment factories, where millions of people work.

The Savar building collapsed five months after a fire at a garment factory near Dhaka killed more than 100 people. And on Wednesday, eight people died in a fire at another factory in the area.

The European Union has threatened to take trade action against Bangladesh if it doesn't improve health and safety conditions for workers.

Western retailers and clothing brands that get their products from Bangladeshi factories are also under pressure to subject their supply chains to greater scrutiny.

With the discovery on Saturday of 40 more bodies amid the wreckage here, the 1,117 total now ranks third in the list of industrial disasters, behind the 1984 chemical leak in Bhopal, India, which killed about 2,500 in its immediate aftermath, and more than 15,000 people over the longer term, and the 1942 mining disaster in Hineiko, China, in which 1,082 people died.