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Bangladeshi talks about surviving factory disaster

By Saeed Ahmed and Ashley Fantz, CNN
May 14, 2013 -- Updated 0200 GMT (1000 HKT)
  • NEW: 19-year-old who was trapped in rubble tells her story for the first time
  • At least 1,127 people were killed after a building collapsed on April 24
  • Survivor says clothes were torn from her body while she crawled to a basement
  • Officials say recovery efforts will end by Tuesday

Dhaka, Bangladesh (CNN) -- A Bangladeshi teen buried for 16 days under the rubble of a garment factory where she worked spoke for the first time Monday about her harrowing struggle to survive.

Nineteen-year-old Reshma vowed to never again work in the country's garment industry, where she was earning the equivalent of $60 a month.

Reshma spoke at a news conference as she was steadily recovering at a military hospital in Dhaka. Rescue workers saved her Friday.

She was found in the factory's basement in a pool of water, according to rescue official Lt. Col. Moazzem Hossain. It's unclear if water from recent rains or rescuers' hoses trickled to where she was trapped, breathing through an air pocket.

Firefighters had hosed down the area to extinguish a fire that erupted during another failed rescue attempt.

Seventeen days after a building collapsed in Savar, Bangladesh, rescuers pull Reshma Begum from the rubble on May 10. More than 1,000 people have died since the nine-story garment factory building fell on April 24. Seventeen days after a building collapsed in Savar, Bangladesh, rescuers pull Reshma Begum from the rubble on May 10. More than 1,000 people have died since the nine-story garment factory building fell on April 24.
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On April 24, the Rana Plaza collapse brought carnage. As each day passed, the death toll crept from the tens to the hundreds. On Friday, it had surpassed 1,000. Finding anyone alive seemed incredibly unlikely.

But then came the sound of an iron rod that Reshma had. And then her pleas.

"I'm alive," she shouted. "Please rescue me!"

The teen recalled that when the collapse of the nine-story building began, she was working on the third floor.

She managed to crawl to the basement. On the way down, some of her clothes were torn off. When she reached the basement, she found extra clothes in the garment factory. She put them on.

When cameras captured Reshma being laid on a stretcher Friday, she was wearing a bright pink scarf and a purple flowery top.

Read: Details on rescuing Reshma

Reshma is still struggling to remember everything that happened. But she said she's sure it was purely God's will that she survived.

Read: How could woman survive?

She will never go back to the factory job she started in April, she said.

The garment industry accounts for 77% of Bangladesh's exports -- a $20 billion industry for the nation. The Rana Plaza collapse, believed to be the deadliest in the history of the clothing industry in the nation, has trained an international spotlight on low pay and unsafe conditions in Bangladeshi garment factories that produce products for European and North American consumers.

The collapse occurred a day after cracks appeared in the structure of the building. Despite the danger, garment workers were told to report to work, CNN Money reported.

How much for a denim shirt in the U.S. and in Bangladesh?

The European Union, Bangladesh's largest trade partner, said last Tuesday that it was considering trade action against Bangladesh. U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said businesses that operated in the collapsed building "appear to have links to numerous companies in the U.S. and Europe."

He added they would work with U.S. companies on "improving working conditions, including in Bangladesh."

The Rana Plaza disaster has also prompted Bangladeshi officials to review how the garment industry operates. The owners of the factories in the plaza and the owner of the plaza have been arrested.

Tragedy spurs nationwide investigation of garment factories

Meanwhile, 100 factories in Ashulia, a suburban area near Dhaka, have been shut down for an indefinite amount of time, Shahidullah Azim, vice president of the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said Monday.

Also on Monday, the country's national news agency reported that the government's Cabinet approved a draft of the Bangladesh Labour Act aimed at protecting workers' rights and safety.

Cabinet Secretary M. Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan told reporters the amendment would also "help increase productivity," according to BSS, the news agency.

Officials have also promised to reexamine how much garment workers are paid.

The news came on day 19 of the search for survivors. Authorities are reporting that 1,127 bodies have been recovered.

The army-led recovery operation is winding down, and authorities say they plan to end the recovery Tuesday.

CNN's Saeed Ahmed and Leone Lakhani reported from Bangladesh, and CNN's Ashley Fantz wrote this report in Atlanta. CNN's Elizabeth Joseph also contributed to this report.

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