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Collapse survivor gives up garment work

SAVAR, Bangladesh -- The 19-year-old seamstress who spent 17 days trapped in the rubble of a collapsed factory building said yesterday that she will never again work in a Bangladesh garment factory.

Reshma Begum was pulled in remarkably good shape from the wreckage of the eight-story Rana Plaza building on Friday. Stunned rescue workers were drawn to the wide pocket under the rubble where she had taken refuge when they heard her banging on a pipe.

Begum was brought in a wheelchair to speak with journalists just outside her room in the intensive care unit of a military hospital. She suffered a head injury in the collapse, and part of her head was covered yesterday with a light violet shawl.

Flanked by a nurse, a psychiatrist and another doctor, she initially appeared dazed and fragile and spoke in a voice so low it was impossible to hear.

Finally, in a low shaky voice, she recounted her ordeal.

She said she moved to the Dhaka area three years ago and began working. On April 2, she joined a garment factory on the second floor of Rana Plaza, where she earned 4,700 takas ($60) a month.

On the morning of April 24, she heard there were cracks in the building and saw co-workers, mainly men, refusing to enter. The managers reassured them: "There is no problem. You do your work," she said.

Soon after, the building crashed down around her.

"When it happened I fell down and was injured in the head heavily. Then I found myself in darkness," she said. She tried to crawl to safety, but could not find a way out, she said.

She survived on four packets of cookies she had with her and some water, she said.

"Another person, a man, was near me. He asked for water. I could not help him. He died. He screamed, 'Save me,' but he died," she said. "I can't remember everything that happened."

"I never thought of coming back alive," she said. "I will not work in a garment factory again."

Begum's survival has been a rare moment of joy amid the morbid task of removing bodies from the disaster site. Yesterday, with a death toll of 1,127, the military announced it was ending its search for bodies from the building.

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