Earthquake tragedy: After two days entombed, she said prayers for her survival and wept for her dead son

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The Independent Online

When they finally found her, Mukhtar Sarbibi had been buried alive for 48 hours. Trapped in the rubble of her home, face down and unable to move, she prayed and called out to her sister who was also trapped. Yesterday, the moment she had prayed for came. She heard the voices of rescuers and called out to them. They started digging, and the light of day broke through, and with it her son's face. Ms Sarbibi was pulled out of the ground, back from the tomb.

From an old iron hospital bed in a field of rubble, she told her story. Ms Sarbibi is just across from her sister now. Both rescued, essentially they are in the same hospital ward ­ only there is no hospital. This is Balakot, the town that was reduced to rubble by the earthquake, and the beds are pitched at awkward angles on rough ground in the open air.

Both women have rudimentary drips attached to their arms. For a woman who has just spent two days trapped underground and unable to move, Ms Sarbibi is in good condition. There is no shock, no trauma. She talks calmly and lucidly about what happened to her. There are just some quiet tears for a son who was killed. When we ask how she did it, how she survived down there for so long, her answer was simple: "I prayed."

When the earthquake came on Saturday, Ms Sarbibi was collecting eggs from the family hens. "I had a hen in my hand. Then the ground started shaking and I blacked out. When I came to, I realised I was underground. I was upside-down and I could not move."

There were two bodies in the rubble down there with her, though she could not see them. One was her son. "I was praying that someone would find me," she said. Then she heard her sister calling out. Both women were trapped in the rubble, and as the hours stretched into days, they kept each other going by calling out to each other under the ruins of their town.

Sohrab Khan was one of the hundreds of volunteers who poured into Balakot to help yesterday. He described how he was with a group searching for survivors when they heard a woman's voice calling out "Allah! Allah!" It was Ms Sarbibi. Her surviving son, Mohsen Khan, rushed to help with the digging. They got both her and her sister out.

Ms Sarbibi's leg is injured, but she is in no danger. With the death of his brother, Mr Khan will have to fend for his injured mother and teenage sister alone ­ their father died eight years ago.

As we left, we heard Ms Sarbibi's voice rising in a prayer of thanks for her survival, mingled with tears for the death of her son.