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Lucky to be alive

How does someone survive two months under rubble?

rescue (UN Photo/Marco Dormino)

Six days after an apartment building collapsed in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, four people were pulled out of the rubble alive.


One of the survivors tragically succumbed to her injuries a few hours later, but it remains a remarkable example of human endurance.


The usual window for search and rescue generally runs from five to seven days. Thereafter, if there have been no signs of life, the emergency teams tend to switch from looking for the living to retrieving the dead.


But there have been some spectacular rescues days after this supposed window of opportunity closes. How is that possible? How do people manage to survive for weeks buried under tons of concrete?


A lot is made of the “will to survive”, but Lucien Jaggi of the UN’s International Search and Rescue Advisory Group believes it is much more to do with luck – and the skill of the rescue teams.


“People who survive have often found a void in the rubble, a space – maybe they’ve found a source of water,” he told IRIN.


The idea of the “will to survive” suggests that those that don’t make it gave up – a notion he doesn’t accept.


“Everybody does whatever they can to survive,” said Jaggi. “I think the baby [pulled out of the same Nairobi six-storey building 80 hours after it collapsed] was just lucky.”


The following are some of the world’s most seriously fluky people:


Naqsha Bibi – Trapped in her kitchen for two months with the rest of her house destroyed by an earthquake in Pakistan-administered Kashmir in 2005.


Evan Muncie - Found in the wreckage of a market in Port-au-Prince 29 days after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. The quake claimed the lives of an estimated 220,000.


Park Seung-hyun –  Trapped for 17 days when the South Korean Sampoong Department Store collapsed in 1995. More than 500 people died in the disaster.


Reshma Akhter – This Bangladeshi seamstress survived for 17 days when the eight-storey Rana Plaza building came down in 2013, killing more than 1,130.


Shahr-Banu Mazandarani – This Iranian grandmother was found nine days after the 2003 Bam earthquake levelled her home. At least 26,000 people died in the 6.6-magnitude quake.




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