MULDHOKA, Nepal (CNN) — As Rasmila Awal walked home from the store on Saturday, the earth began to shake. A few moments later, she saw the building she lived in collapse.
And inside, under all the debris, Awal knew, were her children — Soniya, aged 10, and Sonies, only 5 months old.
“I started screaming and asking neighbors for help,” she recalled in an interview Thursday.
It looked at first glance as if the children could not have possibly survived.
The scale of the devastation is evident. Across the street lies a pile of rubble. Only the occasional soda bottle or piece of clothing sticking out from between some bricks gives any indication that people once lived here.
“I went numb,” said Awal, who is 35. “I didn’t hear anything, didn’t know if they were alive or not.”
Awal’s is one of the many stories to emerge after the devastating magnitude-7.8 earthquake hit Nepal Saturday, killing more than 5,500 people and injuring more than twice that number.
Her husband, Sham Krishna Awal, 34, a microbus driver, was working when the quake shook the region. But Soniya and Sonies were at the family home in Muldhoka, Bhaktapur, east of the capital, Kathmandu.
Sham Awal rushed home and scrabbled frantically through the rubble, searching for his children. Neighbors came to help. But Rasmila Awal became despondent.
“I had very little hope that they had survived,” she said. “I didn’t hear any sound at all.”
And then, a blessing: After two hours, Soniya, a fourth-grader, was found alive.
But the baby was still missing.
No indication the baby might be alive, until . . .
The desperate family called the Nepalese army. Soldiers arrived at 6 p.m. They, too, dug through the debris, but didn’t find the infant so they left at 9 p.m.
The father also began to lose hope of finding his son alive — until, from under the rubble, he heard faint cries.
But night had fallen and there was little that could be done.
“It’s destiny,” a neighbor told Rasmila Awal. “If he’s destined to live, he will. Or else God will take him away.”
The family went to sleep in a nearby field. Others were sleeping there, too — some because they were afraid of being trapped indoors, some because they had no homes left at all.
The next morning, the Awals returned to the remnants of their home. And they heard the joyful sound they had prayed they would hear. Their baby was crying.
“We came back and we heard the voice again,” Rasmila Awal said, her eyes widening at the memory.
The soldiers, having returned as well, resumed digging. And, miracle of miracles, 22 hours after the earthquake, the mother saw a soldier pull her baby out of the debris.
His face was coated with dust. But he was alive.
A photo of him being lifted from the rubble has become the defining image of a disaster that has devastated the country. His unlikely rescue has given hope to a nation that has experienced so much loss.
Sonies was taken to a nearby hospital. Doctors said he had suffered minor bruising and a small cut on his thigh. But he was OK. He was returned to his mother’s arms.
“He just started smiling,” Rasmila Awal said.
It was a happy ending.
In post-quake Nepal, few endings are entirely happy. Sadness abounds. And loss is everywhere.
The Awal family has no place to live now. Everything they had was destroyed. And Sham Awal’s sister-in-law and her two children, who lived nearby, all died in the earthquake.
But then again, a little baby boy, Nepal’s new face of hope, has his whole life still ahead of him.