06 June 2013
Volunteer rescue worker Shahadat tells his experience of trying to pull people out of the collapsed Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh.
‘When we started the rescue work, we had no idea how many people were trapped inside. We had hand-held hacksaws, bolt-cutters, electric hammering drills, electric cutters and portable concrete-cutters. Hydraulic tools would have been safer, but these were all we had.
'When we found someone still alive inside the building, we did our level best to save that life. This was not an expert rescue. We improvised solutions using any equipment we could.
'We were in a lot of danger but we didn’t think about it. One side of the building was alight when we were inside on the second day. The fire service couldn’t extinguish it. It kept re-igniting.
'The rescue work was very hard. We often had to cut through 8 floors and shout, ‘is there anyone alive inside?’ before we started to use our tools on each floor of rubble. We worked in small teams of 15-20. The gaps between the floors were very narrow, and many floorboards had rotted and were totally unstable. The smell was terrible.
'We suffered from lack of oxygen. We had no breathing apparatus ourselves, we just worked as long as we could inside, went back to the air supply, took a breath, then headed back into the cavities again.
'We found Sahina 7 days after the building collapsed. At 2 am they begun work on her rescue. The volunteers had managed to get food and water to her. By 6pm the following evening, she was almost clear of the building. They had to cut through concrete pillars with iron bars inside. So a volunteer took the decision to use electric metal cutters. The oxygen pipe ignited a powerful explosion and because of the clothing all over the factory floor, the fire spread fast. We knew she couldn’t have survived more than a few seconds. The engineer died a few hours later in hospital from severe burns. It’s so hard to accept. I can’t stop myself from crying when I think about it now.
'I was personally involved in the rescue of 12 people. I didn’t go home to rest for 5 days. After the rescue I couldn’t eat or sleep for 8-10 days. I was traumatized. That’s when I contacted RedR and asked them to provide training for me and other volunteers.
'So many people here in Dhaka want to enlist as volunteers. There’s a strong sense that we should help ourselves. We’ve seen too many disasters recently. Last year a building collapsed, there was a fire in the garment district, and right now we have flooding. Awful things are happening to our people.’
In response to Shahadat’s direct request RedR have launched an urgent appeal to raise £30,000 to deliver community-based courses covering Search & Rescue, Disaster Management, Fire & Safety and First Aid.
This training will help the volunteers identify the risks involved, how to best coordinate an immediate rescue and how to productively work alongside disaster response agencies when they arrive. Ultimately, this training will help save lives.
Photos: © Shahadat Hussein