The nine-storied Rana Plaza, housing six ready-made garments (RMG) factories, collapsed on 24th April 2013 at 8.57 am, after generators had kicked-in following a power-cut. Khowas Ali, a small-time trader in Savar and one of the first on the scene, headed a rescue effort using bamboo from the rooftop of next-door RS Plaza. Later he was able to arrange basic instruments to make holes from RS Plaza into different floors of the collapsed building, pulling out those trapped inside. He, and others like him, a motley crew of strangers, worked for 21 days at a stretch, day and night, with minimal sleep or food. The fire-service, army and police, as well as other organisations on the ground, were to give them much-needed support.

Reflecting on the grief and pain of a year ago, what undeniably shines through is the extraordinary compassion and bravery of these local rescuers, who put themselves at huge personal risk, to save 2,550 of the 3,639 in the building. Ironically, many of these trapped would not have survived if the tenets of international disaster protocols had been abided by. These rescuers entered into treacherous, narrow spaces, many only 15-20” high, to save strangers. The stench of death was overpowering, with poor visibility due to dust, insects, mosquitoes and maggots, and the heat stifling, – victims who had survived more than eight hours had stripped themselves bare. Each rescue involved hours of painstaking effort in claustrophobic conditions, by those with no knowledge of even basic first aid techniques. Rudimentary instruments were used to break into different floors and cut beams. Mobile phones helped locate people. The nation rallied around with unprecedented support. Hundreds of organisations, among them Red Crescent, BILS, Sajeda Foundation, Anjuman Mofidul Islam, Enam Medical College, Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed, along with thousands of individuals, helped the rescue effort – providing money, meals, food, fuel, water, saline, oxygen, generators, torches, basic tools, medical and other support.
While Khawas Ali led efforts at one side, Yunus, a cook, entered the building trying to find his wife, and with Jinnah Ali, the owner of a local laundry, he brought out over 200 people alive. Shopon, a small business owner who entered the rescue tunnels after a random stranger begged him to help look for his daughter, remained for 21 days, along with computer-businessman Shujon, who made the first list of people involved in the rescue operation. Afroza, a sewing operator from a nearby factory, stayed on after searching for her brother-in-law, and the only woman who entered the rescue tunnels, keeping track of rescuers, preparing oxygen tanks, and tying tourniquets on site. Authorities initially tried to block her entry but gave in when she asked them, ‘If I don’t go in, will you?’ Muhit, a student, prepared and cared for dead bodies, playing an invaluable role helping relatives identify their loved ones, sleeping next to rotting corpses, in the nearby Adharchandra High school. Daroga Ali along with raajmistri Rafiq, handled hundreds of corpses. Kaikobad the young engineer who suffered severe burns after a mammoth unsuccessful rescue attempt to save a young woman, died in Singapore of his injuries. The young rescue workers sawed off limbs, on instructions via mobile phone from doctors outside. Many of the rescuers still harbour feelings of guilt at not being able to save more lives, of wonder at finding life in a pile of bodies and of recurring nightmares of screams asking for help.

Read the rest of the article here: The Daily Star

Words by Sadaf Saaz Siddiqui
Source: The Daily Star