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Bittersweet end for missing in Bangladesh collapse

Farida, center, cries as she searches for her sister-in-law, Fahima. Just before Fahima was to be placed in an unmarked grave, Farida was able to claim and leave with her sister-in-law’s body.

Associated Press

Farida, center, cries as she searches for her sister-in-law, Fahima. Just before Fahima was to be placed in an unmarked grave, Farida was able to claim and leave with her sister-in-law’s body.

JURAIN, Bangladesh — As she knelt beside the linen-wrapped body and looked at the dress she had purchased, Farida's sobs of sorrow turned to tears of painful relief. She called her husband to speak the words she had been praying for during a week of searching: "I got her. I got her."

Moments before, she stopped workers from placing the body in one of dozens of unmarked graves dug for victims of Bangladesh's building collapse whose bodies were too battered to identify. With wails and sheer persistence she pushed through the crowd of onlookers and forced officials to give her one last look at the row of bodies to see if one might be her beloved sister-in-law.

"Oh, this is my Fahima! This is my Fahima!" she cried, pointing to the distinct spot on her sister-in-law's forehead and the red salwar kameez outfit she had given her.

Farida, who uses only one name, said Fahima narrowly escaped the worst fire ever in the country's garment industry last year. This disaster, she did not escape.

For Farida and other relatives of missing garment workers, the past week has been one of tumbling expectations, as hope that their loved ones survived turned into fears they may have to return home without even a body to bury. Many are impoverished villagers who spent what little money they had to rush to a capital they had never seen, only to find that news was hard to come by and officials were often indifferent.

Without one central list to track the rescued and the dead, relatives waited outside the wreckage or crisscrossed the congested city to visit hospitals and makeshift morgues, armed with only photographs and prayers. Posters of the missing are plastered on walls and utility poles, the collage of faces a constant reminder of the scale of the April 24 disaster that has killed at least 450 people.

Police report 149 people are still missing though unofficial estimates are higher.

Two years ago, Fahima, then 16, left the family's coastal village near the Bay of Bengal in search of work and pride.

"She was a fighter. She did not want to be a burden for the family, for the brothers," Farida recalled.

Like so many girls from poor families, she worked long hours in garment factories, sending home what money she could to help her aging parents.

Farida said Fahima worked at the Tazreen garment factory last year, but quit over a pay dispute. Three days later, fire destroyed the factory and killed 112 workers.

Fahima went home to visit her worried family, and then returned to Dhaka to find more garment work, this time in Rana Plaza.

Farida left with her sister-in-law's body Wednesday. She will be buried next to her grandparents.

"I don't have regrets anymore. I am happy," Farida said. "She will rest in peace at home."

Bittersweet end for missing in Bangladesh collapse 05/02/13 [Last modified: Friday, May 3, 2013 12:24am]
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