How have people survived weeks under rubble? Sewage water and a pack of biscuits helped

·3 min read

As the death toll rises and weather hampers the search and rescue at the Surfside condo collapse site, hope remains amid the wreckage.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett is one of many tirelessly leading the charge at the Champlain Towers South site.

This week, Burkett recalled a woman who was able to survive 17 days buried after a garment factory collapse in Bangladesh in May 2013. More than 1,000 died in that tragedy.

Reshma Begum
Reshma Begum

According to media reports at the time, Reshma Begum, then 19, told rescuers she nibbled on a pack of biscuits she had bought for breakfast before work and had bottles of water dropped into the debris by rescuers.

“Nobody is giving up hope here. Nobody is stopping. The work goes on full-force,” Burkett said. “We’re dedicated to get everyone out of that pile of rubble and reunite them with their families.”

Other history watchers have referenced survivors of the 7.0 earthquake that rocked Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010. More than 300,000 people perished in the disaster, but one man was able to hold out for almost a month under a tangled morass of debris. Rice vendor Evans Monsignac, then 27, miraculously survived 27 days after being trapped in his decimated stall at the La Saline marketplace in Port-au-Prince. He was rescued Feb. 8 by Salvation Army volunteers.

How long can someone survive in rubble? What to know after condo collapse near Miami

Later transferred to Tampa General Hospital, he recounted the harrowing tale.

“I still don’t understand how I’m here,” Monsignac told the UK’s Daily Telegraph while still recovering a month later at the Florida hospital. “I was resigned to death. But God gave me life. The fact that I’m alive today isn’t because of me, it’s because of the grace of God. It’s a miracle. I can’t explain it.”

The average human can go about three days without water; Monsignac was able to find a water source, which turned out to be raw sewage dripping from the debris. He drank it. He lost about 60 pounds during his ordeal, weighing about 88 pounds at the time of his rescue.

In 2001, a 7.7 magnitude earthquake struck Bhuj, India, and Viral Dalal spent five days under chunks of concrete from a collapsed apartment building, according to NBC4 in Washington.

Watching news of the Surfside collapse triggered memories of the now Virginia resident’s own experience and inspires hope that more survivors might be rescued.

“When I look at it, I just feel like, there has to be someone who is somewhere in the corner, stuck in a place where the person is not injured, but just stuck, just waiting for help,” the “Choosing Light” author told the station.

After days of staring at concrete just two inches from his face, the International Rescue Corps pulled him out.

What got him through? Mental strength, the hope of being rescued and imagining what it would be like to reunite with his loved ones.

“It is incredible where your mind can take you,” said Dalal, who appears in a Discovery Plus documentary on the horrifying experience. “Your mind can take you to dark places and I had to pull myself back up from where my mind was trying to take me and where I wanted to go.”

Miami Herald staff writer Jacqueline Charles contributed to this report.