In a natural disaster such as an earthquake, it is vital to know the number of people trapped under the ruins. To address this problem, we propose RESCUE - wiREless backScattering CommUnication based disastEr recovery system. RESCUE is composed of special Radio-frequency identification (RFID) readers and sensors that are used to determine the total number of people under the ruins. Passive wireless sensor nodes are placed inside the building during construction and are equipped with a camera that is activated during an earthquake. After the earthquake, communication to the passive tags of sensors is achieved by wireless power transfer from a reader located outside the ruins. Tags harvest this energy and send the image data stored by the camera. We also design an antenna structure to maximize simultaneous wireless information and power transfer (SWIPT) for devices under ruins. We analyze the communication channel between reader and sensors and derive a channel model over ruins. Furthermore, we obtain the results of experimental study where we validate the derived channel model. Results show that RESCUE can collect the desired data in a relatively short time, and hence, is a promising disaster recovery system architecture. (C) 2019 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.