It was a triumph of life amid a deluge of death. A newborn infant, still attached to her mother’s umbilical cord, was pulled from the rubble in north-west Syria.
The moments of her rescue were caught on video, showing a man climbing down from the wreckage with the naked dust-caked baby in his hands. It was hours after a pair of major earthquakes in neighbouring Turkey swept through the region, killing thousands of people and leaving a trail of destruction. But there, in the village of Jindires, a miracle had occurred.
Similar scenes of harrowing rescues, as well as desperate searches for missing loved ones, rippled out from Turkey and Syria and across social media this week. The posts – including photos, videos and text – have offered the world a window into the hunt for survivors of one of the worst earthquake-related disasters in the region in nearly a century.
Nearly 8,000 people have been killed in both countries, according to officials and rescue workers. Thousands more are injured or missing, with teams racing to find survivors in the frigid cold.
The recovery of the newborn girl in Jindires was one of the most dramatic. According to accounts, her relatives heard her cries, clipped her umbilical cord and extracted her from the rubble.
Later, at a hospital in nearby Afrin, her doctor told the Associated Press that he believes she was born under the wreckage. Her parents and four siblings died when their four-story home collapsed, Agence France-Presse reported.
The scale of the search-and-rescue efforts is overwhelming, especially in the rebel-held pocket in north-west Syria that’s already hammered by years of war and a prolonged humanitarian crisis.
Footage shared on social media by the Syrian Civil Defense shows rescuers with headlamps on their trademark white helmets sifting through bricks until one grasps the foot of a boy named Haroun, whom they drag out from underneath a slab of concrete and into the night air as he groans in pain.
Another video shows volunteers in the town of Atmeh drilling toward the body of a child, whom they brought out alive after more than 20 hours. In one viral clip, which The Washington Post could not verify, a young girl, pinned under concrete and holding a toddler in the crook of her arm, says she will do anything for her rescuers so long as they save her.
In another, filmed by Syrian activist-journalist Karam Kellieh on Tuesday in the city of Haram in the Idlib province, cheers, applause and shouts of “God is great” greet a young girl pulled from the rubble. The waiting crowd passes the girl, dressed in a pink jacket with a long braid hanging down her back, from person to person – followed by another young boy and girl. Rescue workers then carry a smiling man out on a stretcher. Hands reach out from all sides to touch this family which – 40 hours after the quake – had made it out alive.
On the Turkish side of the border, too, in scene after nail-biting scene, survivors were extracted from the ruins. In Malatya, footage released by Turkish NGO IHH showed rescuers lifting a man alive from the remains of a 135-bed hotel that had completely collapsed after the earthquake.
But many searches did not lead to bodies being pulled out alive – or at all.
Turks living in Istanbul shared addresses on Twitter of those they knew in affected areas, imploring rescue workers to help. Some, displaced from their homes, voiced a sense of frustration and defeat.
“My grandparents are still under the rubble after 41 hours of the earthquake,” Kaula Faunlenn wrote on Twitter. “We are sleeping in the car. Still having tremors. Some of my childhood friends, my relatives are dead. Some are still missing. Gosh it’s so heavy.”
For members of the Syrian and Turkish diasporas, the social media posts spurred frantic phone calls to learn the fate of their relatives – and fresh anguish for their countries of origin.
Merve Kayikci, an academic who lives in Amsterdam and works for a Belgian university, has relied on social media to seek news about her relatives in Antakya in the Hatay province. Residents have criticized what they describe as a slow and insufficient mobilization from Turkish authorities to carry out rescue operations there.
Kayikci’s cousin and his 8-year-old son remain trapped under their building. “We’ve heard that they’re alive, that they’ve been calling out from underneath the rubble,” she said in an interview late Tuesday. Heavy machinery to help dig through the rubble only arrived late Tuesday night.
Relatives from Istanbul have been sharing updates on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, which Kayikci passes along to her father in a chain of information-sharing made possible by social media as regular phone lines are down.
In England, Karim al-Jian first saw news of the earthquake on Twitter.
The 26-year-old doctor, who was born in Aleppo and grew up in the United Kingdom, was up late while visiting his parents in Lancashire. In the early hours of Monday morning, his feed exploded with reports of the first quake, whose epicenter was the Turkish province of Kahramanmaras. Jian knew that if Idlib had been badly shaken, the outcome wouldn’t be good.
“There’s no such thing as a stable building in Idlib,” he said. “Buildings have been damaged from what is now over a decade of relentless bombardment.”
Jian broke the news to his father, who called his grandmother in Aldana, the village in Idlib where their extended family lives. She and Jian’s aunt were unharmed, but his grandmother’s building was damaged, its walls cracked. His grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s, got lucky: Some of the neighbors’ houses were completely flattened, he said.
Community Facebook pages gave Jian, hundreds of miles away, glimpses of the damage to his family’s village.
“It’s hard to distinguish what’s been bombed out or what’s been destroyed by the earthquake,” he said.
On Tuesday evening, Jian was able to make contact with his cousin, Abdulrahman, a doctor completing his residency in trauma and orthopedics in Idlib. He was taking a break after a 24-hour shift treating patients injured in the earthquake, he said – before he headed back to the hospital again.