Published: Tuesday, April 30, 2013

They did well, feel not well

Eerie feelings take over as people's rescue comes to an end

It was not relief they felt, or satisfaction of a job well done. They did not congratulate each other saying, “Look, how many lives we have saved!” Nor did they count their blessings that they were unhurt in their daring rescue efforts.
Instead, after five days of selfless endeavour to rescue those trapped inside the ruins of Rana Plaza, the civilian rescuers were overtaken by feelings of guilt, remorse and anger as the first phase of the rescue mission came to an end on Sunday night.
In the second phase, official rescuers began using heavy equipment to remove the rubble, as the prospects of rescuing those trapped inside became thin.
But somehow, the untrained, civilian rescuers wished they could do more and worked harder, faster and more efficiently to save more lives.
They also wondered if the picture would have been different if they had better equipment, expertise and infrastructural support.
As the cranes began to drill through the broken concrete, a civilian rescuer, Shafiul Alam, asked, “What will I tell those parents when they ask me why I couldn’t save their daughters?”
Many stood before the wrecked site, their hands raised in prayer for the souls they could not save.
“Tell them to stop the cranes; there are still thousands of people inside,” one distressed rescuer, Shafique, shouted. His plea was lost in the cruel sound of loud machinery and the crumble of bricks and rods.
Others did not respond to his entreaty. “It’s done,” whispered another rescuer, in an attempt to comfort Shafique, his teary eyes clearly betraying his emotions.
“We didn’t want to stop working, but the police drove us away around 4:00am [yesterday],” said Md Shujan, who had been working ceaselessly since Wednesday afternoon. “We even had a demonstration, but to no avail.”
He also expressed his frustration over the way bricks were being removed. “They told us they would do it very slowly, so as to try and save more lives. But now they will all be crushed to pieces.”
Shafiul Alam, who had come all the way from Rangpur to join the rescue operation, said: “I can still hear their pleas when I close my eyes. I can see the remnants of dead bodies.
“It was almost an obsession for the last few days — to stay here, to try to help in any way I could.”
Shafiul highlighted how it was the locals who, risking everything, took charge of the rescue mission.
“But we had thought we would play a subsidiary role, that we would support, not lead,” he said, adding that he thought the government should have sent a better skilled team to lead from the frontline.
Nur Hossain, who has helped save dozens of people since Wednesday night, still thought he had not done enough. For one, he could not rescue his sister-in-law, in whose search he had begun the mission.
“If I could at least take back her corpse…,” he lamented.
Hearing the news of the collapse, students from different universities also came to join in the rescue efforts.
Al Zahid, joint secretary of Chhatra Federation, said the 100 or so lives his team had saved could not give them peace.

  • Ahmed Zakaria

    The real unsung heroes. Its a shame that the police and army acted as onlookers. They should take a lesson from these ordinary people who rose to the occasion and proved their mettle. You guys have gone above the call of duty and saved hundreds of lives. Peace to you all.