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Woman found alive 17 days after building collapse

SAVAR, Bangladesh -- A seamstress buried for 17 days in the wreckage of a collapsed garment factory building in Bangladesh was rescued yesterday, a miraculous moment set against the unimaginable horror of 1,045 bodies recovered so far.

Reshma Begum was in such good shape she was able to walk, according to one rescuer. She said she survived on dried food, which ran out after 15 days, and bottled water.

Begum was discovered near a Muslim prayer room in the basement of the eight-story Rana Plaza building, where crews have been focused on recovering bodies, not rescuing survivors, since late April.

"I heard voices of the rescue workers for the past several days. I kept hitting the wreckage with sticks and rods just to attract their attention," she told the private Somoy TV from her hospital bed. "No one heard me. It was so bad for me. I never dreamed I'd see the daylight again."

She finally got the crews' attention when she took a steel pipe and began banging it, said Abdur Razzak, a warrant officer with the military's engineering department who first spotted her in the wreckage.

They ordered the cranes and bulldozers to immediately stop and used handsaws and welding and drilling equipment to cut through the iron rod and debris still trapping her. They gave her water, oxygen and saline as they worked to free her.

When Begum was freed after 40 minutes, the crowd erupted in wild cheers. Soldiers and men in hard hats carried Begum, wearing a pink outfit with a violet scarf, on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance, which brought her to a military hospital.

"She was fine, no injuries. She was just trapped. The space was wide," said Lt. Col. Moyeen, an army official at the scene who uses only one name.

"We got her back just when we had lost all our hope to find her alive," said her sister, Asma.

Begum told Somoy TV she was working in a factory on the second floor when the building began collapsing around her. She raced down a stairwell into the basement and became trapped by the wreckage in a pocket that allowed her to survive.

Her long hair got stuck under the rubble, but she used sharp objects to cut her hair and free herself, said Maj. Gen. Chowdhury Hasan Suhrawardy, the head of the local military units in charge of the disaster site.

Workers began tearing through the nearby rubble anyway, hoping to find another person alive.

"Reshma told me there were three others with her. They died. She did not see anybody else alive there," Suhrawardy said.

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