Since the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex on the outskirts of the Bangladesh capital, Dhaka, Bangladesh Red Crescent staff and volunteers have been at the forefront of search and rescue efforts. Medical teams have been caring for the injured as well as helping authorities to manage the dead. As rescue efforts continue, over 350 bodies have so far been retrieved from the rubble since the building collapsed on Wednesday.
Humayra Rahman Sraboni has been a Red Crescent volunteer since 1989. Although she hadn’t been an active volunteer for some time, she could not hold herself back from offering her services when she saw pictures of people trapped under the rubble of the collapsed building in Savar. “I was watching the news on TV, and immediately contacted Red Crescent office asking to be deployed”, she says. Sraboni specifically chose to volunteer at night. “I thought it was important for a female to be there. There would be women available to help during the day, but not at night.” As it transpired, Sraboni was the only female volunteer in the entire building on the night of 25 April, the second night of the rescue operation.
Working from 8 in the evening till 11 of the following morning, her work ranged from helping to rescue people from the rubble to managing dead bodies. She also handled requests from the media and members of the public who had gathered around to offer support.
Sraboni carried saline for the doctors and helped transport some patients to the nearest hospital. Perhaps the most challenging task she performed was helping the surgeons on the scene in amputating hands and legs of people who had suffered severe crush injuries. Asked whether she could help in packing dead bodies, she instinctively said yes. “I never thought I would be able to carry out this work. I have had to be mentally and physically strong. There are moments and horrible things I saw that I would like to erase from my mind but there are also happy moments that I witnessed which I will never forget”.
At one point Sraboni was accosted by a man desperate for news about his sister who was missing. Adamant that he had to find his sister, he started working with the army and Red Crescent volunteers. After some time, he saw a body being carried in one of the stretchers and recognized his sister.
“She immediately recognized her brother and sat up. They hugged each other and were crying and shouting, “This is my brother… This is my sister,” says Sraboni.
Sraboni also found herself in harm’s way. On the third morning of the rescue operation, she was on the second floor of the building beside the collapsed Rana Plaza when there was a brief tremor. “Everyone rushed to the stairs, I fell and was crushed under the crowd. I was pushed into a tight corner and was only saved by army personnel who heard my cries for help.”
After a few days, Sraboni was physically exhausted and couldn’t continue. “I left the place with a heavy heart. I knew there were still people alive who were trapped under the debris.”
Over 2,430 people are known to have survived the building collapse. It is not known how many remained trapped beneath the rubble.