Bangladesh seamstress ranks among most extreme stories of survival

The discovery of a Bangladeshi seamstress 17 days after the factory collapsed is among the most extreme example of survival in rubble.
Rescuers carry the survivor out the wreckage of a building in Bangladesh after 17 days in the rubble. More than 1,000 people died in the factory collapse on Apr. 24. (Associated Press)

From time to time, a story of miraculous survival emerges out of catastrophe.

The discovery of Reshma, a seamstress, in the rubble of a collapsed eight-storey garment factory in Bangladesh 17 days after the building buckled under the weight of illegally added floors is one of those cases. But there have been more extreme cases in recent years that defy expectations of survival.

In perhaps the most shocking incident of all, a 40-year-old woman was found alive in the wreckage of her kitchen 63 days after an earthquake hit Kashmir in December of 2005.

As is often the situation when people survive disasters, Naqsha Bibi had food and water within reach. Rotten food and a trickle of water dripping down the wall became her sustenance. A gap in the debris appears to have allowed fresh air in. Over the two months, Bibi remained curled in a fetal position, unable to move or stretch out.

The Bangladeshi seamstress rescued on Friday also had access to food and water. Bottled water and dried food was located in the basement of the Rana Plaza building where she was trapped.

But even upon rescue, the survival of a person after a lengthy time buried under rubble is not guaranteed.

In the case of Kashmir's Bibi, her rescuers blundered in her care. They thought she was so near death that they left her in a tent to "let her be," BBC reported. Two days later, German doctors visiting the camp learned of Bibi and arranged for treatment and she survived.

For most survivors, however, the biggest danger upon rescue is rhabdomyolysis, a condition caused by crush injuries and prolonged immobility that sees survivors suddenly die of kidney failure hours or days after being rescued.

The condition can happen to someone who suffered through prolonged immobility because they've been trapped in a confined space, or to those with crushed limbs, even if the injuries aren't normally life threatening.

Basically, when the object is lifted off the crushed muscle, blood quickly flows back into the area. It can lead to an excess of myoglobin in the body that can cause potentially deadly kidney failure.

Studies suggest that 40 per cent of survivors of structural collapses in natural and man-made disasters suffer rhabdomyolysis.

Other cases of miraculous survival include:

27 days

Evans Monsignac was rescued after 27 days buried in the rubble of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. He stayed alive by drinking sewage water.

16 days

In 1995, a supermarket collapsed in Seoul. Park Seung-Hyun, 19, was found 16 days later. The sales clerk told doctors she'd had nothing to drink during her time trapped in a pocket of collapsed concrete slabs.

15 days

Darlene Etienne, a teenager, spent two weeks in the ruins of Port-au-Prince after the Haiti earthquake. It is believed she had access to water because she was trapped in a collapsed bathroom.

14 days

Pedrito Dy survived two weeks in the ruins of a Philiippine hotel by drinking drips of rainwater water and his own urine. Dy said he tried to commit suicide as he lay entombed in the rubble.

12 days

In yet another case after the deadly Haiti earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people, Ricot Duprevil, 31, was pulled from the rubble nearly two weeks after becoming trapped. He was caught in a collapse triggered by an aftershock, not the main earthquake. He had access to a two-gallon jug of water found among the debris.

Nine days

This case is notable because of the age of the victim. Shahr-Banu Mazandarani, a 97-year-old Iranian woman, was rescued from the wreckage of her home after the Bam earthquake in January, 2004. She reportedly had some access to food and water.

Seven days

It shocked everyone when an 11-day-old baby was discovered in a tiny hollow in the ruins by a French rescue team a week after Haiti's 2010 earthquake. The mother had tried to reach the child but was forced out of the home as walls collapsed around her.

Seven days

One of the most famous stories after the 1985 Mexico City earthquake was the "miracle babies," rescued from the rubble of two maternity hospitals. A few of the newborns survived seven days in the nursery without nourishment.

Six days

In 2004, Muhammet Kalem, 16, was pulled alive from apartment building rubble in Turkey nearly a week after it collapsed. The teen suffered a few cuts on his body, but was otherwise fine, despite being without food or water the entire time.