ANTAKYA: It had already been more than the critical 72 hours seen as a cutoff point for finding Turkish earthquake survivors.
But over 80 hours later, 16-year-old Melda Adtas was pulled out alive, leaving her overjoyed father in tears and the grieving nation cheering an agonisingly rare piece of good news after Monday's 7.8-magnitude tremor.
The death toll across Turkey and Syria has climbed above 21,000, but the father felt nothing but relief.
“My dear, my dear!” he called out as rescuers pulled the teen out of the rubble and the watching crowd broke into applause.
It took rescue workers five painstaking hours to save her life after neighbours raised the alarm.
They had heard sounds from the splintered walls.
For Melda and others in Antakya, a city in one of the most affected provinces, Hatay, the biting cold worsened an already desolate situation.
Hopes rose after rescuers found three people alive in the same building, only a floor above Melda. So they and her panicked father went looking, determined to find the missing girl.
‘God bless you!'
When rescuers discovered Melda, she was stuck under a wall that had collapsed.
The man leading her rescue effort was Suleyman, one of a group of Black Sea miners who headed south to help.
Without him, said his co-workers, the operation could not have been carried out. He knows his way around dark, narrow spaces.
Working in silence to maintain contact with Melda, the rescuers removed one obstacle after another, as onlookers watched anxiously.
Then, all of a sudden, they reached the cold, bruised, young girl, but very much alive, and gently brought her to a waiting ambulance.
Several rescuers, wearing helmets, covered in dust and with tired faces, held the stretcher, protecting Melda with a blanket against the cold and prying eyes.
Many victims, caught up in the disaster while they were sleeping, had very little on when the quake unleashed chaos.
Once Melda was safely in the ambulance, many hugged, kissed and congratulated the rescuers. Several could not hold back tears.
“We haven't worked for nothing, we have pulled a girl from the rubble,” one said.
“What day is it?” another asked, exhausted and bewildered by the gruelling race against time.
“God bless you all!” her father shouted.