Heroes emerge from Bangladesh tragedy

With little training, equipment, volunteers jump to the rescue
2013-05-01T00:00:00Z Heroes emerge from Bangladesh tragedyThe Associated Press The Associated Press
May 01, 2013 12:00 am  • 

SAVAR, Bangladesh - The heat in the rubble was sweltering. It closed in on his body like the darkness around him, making it hard to breathe. Working by the faint glow of a flashlight, he slithered through the broken concrete and spotted a beautiful young woman, her crushed arm pinned beneath a pillar. She was dying, and the only way to get her out was to amputate.

But Saiful Islam Nasar had no training, and almost no equipment. He's a mechanical engineer who just days earlier rushed hundreds of miles from his hometown in southern Bangladesh when he heard the Rana Plaza factory building had collapsed and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of garment workers were trapped.

He also understood that maimed women can be cast from their homes. "I asked her, 'Sister, are you married?' She said 'Yes.' I asked her, 'If I cut off your arm, will your husband take you again?' She said, 'My husband loves me very much.' And then I started to cut," he said.

He had brought a syringe loaded with painkiller - his father was a village medic and had taught him how to give injections - and he cut through her arm with a small surgical blade. It was easier than he expected because the arm had already been so badly damaged.

He pointed at fading specks of blood staining his vest and pants. He began to cry. "There was no alternative," he said.

Bangladesh is well-versed in tragedy, a country where floods, ferry sinkings, fires and cyclones strike with cruel regularity. But with state services riven by dysfunction and corruption, often the only hope is the person beside you.

It is a country that makes heroes out of everyday citizens.

Many of the first responders at Rana Plaza were men like Nasar - neighborhood residents, fellow garment workers, relatives of the missing and charity workers - and they repeatedly took on some of the most dangerous work.

Using little more than hammers, hacksaws and their bare hands, they crawled into tiny holes in the wreckage, breaking through concrete and steel bars to drag out the victims. They knew they were risking their lives.

Over six days, Nasar pulled six people out alive and removed dozens of bodies.

Not all of the rescue workers at Rana Plaza were untrained. The government sent some 1,000 soldiers and firefighters to the site. But from all appearances, the majority of the rescuers who went into the rubble were volunteers. Altogether, about 2,500 people were brought out alive from the wreckage.

Latest developments

COURT ORDER: A top Bangladesh court on Tuesday ordered the government to confiscate the property of a collapsed building's owner, as thousands of protesters demanding the death penalty for the man clashed with police, leaving 100 people injured.

ASSETS FROZEN: A two-judge panel of the High Court also asked the central bank to freeze the assets of the owners of the five garment factories in the building, and use the money to pay the salaries and other benefits of their workers.

THE BACKGROUND: The collapse, which killed an estimated 386 people, has become the deadliest disaster to hit Bangladesh's garment industry.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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