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Woman who survived 16 days in collapsed building: 'Never dreamed I'd see the daylight'

As workers began the grim process of recovering the dead, they heard a faint cry from the rubble.  Seamstress Reshma Begum spent more than 16 days trapped in a basement mosque, subsisting on dried foods and small amounts of water. NBC's Ian Williams reports.

A mother who was pulled alive from the ruins of an eight-story factory in Bangladesh admitted Friday that she "never dreamed I'd see the daylight again" after more than 16 days in the rubble.

Reshma Begum, a seamstress who is married with a young son, was found trapped in a mosque in the building's basement after about 391 hours.

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A woman who survived more than 16 days in the rubble of a collapsed factory building in Bangladesh was rescued on Friday.

"I heard voices of the rescue workers for the past several days," Begum told private Somoy TV station from her hospital bed. "I kept hitting the wreckage with sticks and rods just to attract their attention. No one heard me. It was so bad for me. I never dreamed I'd see the daylight again."

She added: "There was some dried food around me. I ate the dried food for 15 days. The last two days I had nothing but water. I used to drink only a limited quantity of water to save it. I had some bottles of water around me." 

The April 24 collapse of the Rana Plaza complex, about 20 miles northwest of Dhaka, was the world's worst industrial accident since the Bhopal disaster in India in 1984, Reuters reported. The death toll reached at least 1,038 on Friday.

One expert rescuer said he had never heard of someone surviving for so long in a collapsed building, saying it was "incredible" Begum was still alive.

Bangladesh’s Daily Star newspaper said the first sign there was a survivor came when a rescuer heard groans coming from the basement at about 3:15 p.m. local time on Friday (5:15 a.m. ET). 

A senior rescue official said Begum was first spotted by a 15-year-old volunteer helping at the site called Monowar. 

Munir Uz Zaman / AFP - Getty Images

The factory building -- once eight-stories high -- is now almost at ground level.

Bangladesh’s Independent newspaper quoted a rescuer who told local television that "as we were clearing rubble, we called out if anyone was alive."

"Then we heard her saying, 'please save me, please save me.' Since then she has been talking to us," he added.

She was given water and food as rescuers tried to reach her, the Star newspaper said, and she was freed just over an hour later.

Local television showed the young woman, who was wearing a purple dress, being carried from the rubble to an ambulance that took her to a military hospital.

The rescue official said she was dehydrated but able to walk, and Moazzem Hossain, an army major, also told the Star that she was in "good health." 

Ray Gray, who spent 22 years as a rescuer at many of the world’s major earthquakes, said it was “incredible” that she was still alive after more than 16 days.

“She’s a very, very lucky lady,” he said. “It’s certainly the longest I’ve heard of.”

Gray, who recently retired from working with the Scotland-based International Rescue Corps, said without access to water most people would be dead within a week.

He said the longest rescue he was involved in personally was of a woman in the city of Duzce, Turkey, who was trapped for four or five days after an earthquake in 1999. A closet fell on top of her and protected her from her house, which collapsed in the quake. She survived despite having no water or food.

The disaster, believed to have been triggered when generators were started up during a blackout, has put the spotlight on Western retailers who use the impoverished South Asian nation as a source of cheap goods.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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