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Miracle survivor pulled from Bangladesh ruins

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Bangladeshi rescuers pulled a woman alive from the ruins of a collapsed garment factory complex on Friday after she spent 17 days trapped in a basement under the rubble.

Hours after officials had announced that the death toll had surged past the 1,000 mark, recovery teams who had long given up any hope of finding more survivors were stunned to hear the voice of a woman calling out for help.

They then managed to pull her from out of the ruins in an operation broadcast live on television and watched over by growing crowds at the scene who were asked by clerics to pray for her.

After she was brought to the surface, she was whisked away to a waiting ambulance but she managed a weak smile to the people gathered at the ruined Rana Plaza complex on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka.

Army Captain Ibrahimul Islam told AFP that the woman was called Reshma but did not know her family name.

"She has been taken to the Savar Combined Military Hospital and admitted in the intensive care unit. She is fine."

The country's fire service chief told AFP that Reshma had been found in a gap between a beam and column in the wreckage of the nine-storey complex, which had caved in on April 24, and appeared to have access to water.

"She may have reserves of water or have drunk some of the water that we've pumped into the building," Ahmed Ali told AFP.

An army officer who brought Reshma out of the rubble said that she had been found standing amid the ruins.

"We first saw a pipe moving. We removed some gravel and concrete. We found her standing," Major Moazzem, who uses only one name, told Somoy TV.

"We gave her food and assured her that she would be rescued. We conducted the rescue work for 45 minutes. We brought her out by using light hammers, hand saw and drilling machines."

One of the rescuers said that the woman had cried out for help as recovery teams sifted through the wreckage in the town of Savar on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka.

"As we were clearing rubble, we called out if anyone was alive," the unnamed rescuer said. "Then we heard her saying 'please save me, please save me'."

Another rescuer said that the woman had had access to food supplies for the first fortnight of her ordeal but had run out two days ago.

"She said she has not eaten for the last two days. She said she has eaten some dried food like biscuits," said the rescuer.

"She said she had found a safe place and found some air and light."

A special aide of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina confirmed that Reshma would be treated at the nearby military hospital.

"The prime minister said it's an unprecedented event. She has been monitoring the situation and she has congratulated the rescue workers," the aide Mahbubul Hoque Shakil told AFP.

Her rescue is one of the most remarkable of recent years, although it is not the longest survival after a disaster on record.

In Pakistan, on December 12, 2005 a 40-year-old woman was rescued from the ruins of her house in Kashmir, two months after a quake ravaged the region.

A 27-year-old man also spent 27 days buried under the rubble of an earthquake which flattened large parts of Haiti in 2010.

News of the rescue came as recovery teams were preparing to wrap up their work at the site after discovering scores more corpses in the tangle of concrete overnight.

A spokesman for the army, which is overseeing the recovery operation, said the toll had reached 1,045, making it one of the world's deadliest industrial disasters.

More than 3,000 workers were on shift on the morning of April 24 when the building suddenly caved in.

Most were earning around $40 a month to make clothing for Western brands such as Italy's Benetton, Britain's Primark and the Spanish label Mango.

The preliminary findings of a government probe blamed vibrations from four giant generators on the upper floors for triggering the collapse.

Police have arrested 12 people including the plaza's owner and four factory bosses for forcing people to work on the day of the disaster, even though cracks appeared in the structure the day before.

The collapse was the latest in a string of disasters to blight the textile industry, with a factory fire last November killing 111 workers.

Bangladesh is the world's second-largest apparel maker and the $20 billion industry accounted for up to 80 percent of annual exports last year.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130510/bangladesh-toll-passes-1000-stacks-bodies-found