A baby began her life surrounded by chaos and devastation this week.
Reportedly named Aya – meaning ‘miracle’ in Arabic – she was born under the rubble of Monday’s deadly earthquake, still attached to her mother’s lifeless body by the umbilical cord when rescue workers found her.
Her story certainly seems miraculous, as she survived for more than 10 hours under the wreckage of her family’s five-story apartment building in northern Syria after it was leveled to the ground during the pre-dawn 7.8 magnitude quake.
“We heard a voice while we were digging,” the baby’s cousin, Khalil al-Suwadi told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Tuesday. “We cleared the dust and found the baby with the umbilical cord (intact), so we cut it and my cousin took her to hospital.”
Tragically, the baby’s mother did not survive and is thought to have died hours after giving birth. In fact, the newborn is believed to be the sole survivor of her immediate family, her cousin told the news agency.
Orphan Aya – who was reportedly named by medics – is now receiving treatment at a children’s hospital in the nearby town of Afrin, where pediatrician Hani Maarouf told AFP that she is stable but arrived with bruises, lacerations and hypothermia.
Footage of her incredible rescue quickly went viral online and drew international attention.
Many from around the world asked how they could adopt her. However, it has been confirmed that Aya’s great-uncle, Salah al-Badran, will take her in once she is discharged from the hospital, despite his own home being destroyed in the earthquake, the Guardian reported.
According to UNICEF emergency communication specialist Joe English, adoption should never occur in the immediate aftermath of an emergency.
“Until the whereabouts of a child’s parent or other close family members can be verified, each separated child is considered to have living close relatives,” he told CNN. “Every effort should be made to reunify children with their families when suitable, if such reunification is in their best interest.”
Similarly, 3-year-old Tariq Haidar was pulled alive from the wreckage of his home in Jandaris, northern Syria, 42 hours after the earthquake struck, Reuters news agency reported. He was taken to the hospital where doctors were forced to amputate his left leg.
His family did not survive. Malek Qasida, a nurse caring for him, told Reuters: “They pulled out his father and two of his siblings before him, dead.” The body of his mother and a third sibling were later recovered from the wreckage, locals said, according to Reuters.
‘Many, many children will have lost parents’
Aya and Tariq are just two of the unknown number of children in Turkey and Syria who have been orphaned in the wake of Monday’s deadly earthquake.
The initial quake hit just after 4 a.m. local time, while many people were sleeping.
“Whilst we don’t yet have any verified numbers, given the catastrophic, and ever-increasing, death toll, it is clear that many, many children will have lost parents or caregivers in these devastating earthquakes,” said English, from UNICEF.
“Urgently identifying unaccompanied children and those who may have been separated from parents and caregivers is absolutely critical so that they can receive the appropriate care and support in the short term, and so that we can begin the work to locate and reunite them with family.
“Following these kinds of disasters, displaced children, especially those who are unaccompanied or separated from family, are vulnerable to violence, exploitation, and abuse, including the risk of trafficking or gender-based violence.”
He added: “Beyond our immediate life-saving response providing safe drinking water, warm winter clothes, medical and nutritional supplies, UNICEF is also working with our partners to provide children affected with critical psychosocial and mental health support, to help them process their experiences and begin to address the trauma that many children may have experienced.
“This is not a short-term job, and will require dedicated, long-term support, as we help children and families rebuild their shattered lives.”
Meanwhile the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) – made up of 15 leading UK aid charities – said its member organizations would be closely monitoring and supporting unaccompanied and separated children.
“They do this by establishing child-friendly spaces, providing age appropriate psychosocial and resilience activities, specialized case management and alternative care for unaccompanied and separated children,” Madara Hettiarachchi, director of programs and accountability at the DEC, told CNN.
Race against time
Information regarding the exact number of children left without parents is still unclear. According to Turkey’s Ministry of Family and Social Services on Friday, the families of 263 children who were pulled from the rubble in Turkey could not be reached.
Among those children, 162 continue to receive care in hospital, while 101 children were transferred to the relevant units of the ministry and taken under institutional care after their treatment.
The death toll in Turkey and Syria stands at more than 28,000, according to authorities.
In Turkey, the number of people killed has risen to 24,617, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said at a news conference Saturday. In Syria, the total number of deaths stood at 3,575 as of Saturday.
Rescue workers are racing against time to pull survivors from the rubble of collapsed buildings in freezing winter conditions.
Efforts have also been hampered by blocked roads, damaged infrastructure and several violent aftershocks.
There have been some incredible tales of survival. A 16-year-old boy was pulled alive from the rubble of a destroyed building in the Turkish city of Kahramanmaras, 119 hours after the devastating earthquake hit the country. A 10-year-old girl was brought out alive from under the wreckage in southern Turkey’s Hatay province after 147 hours.
However, CNN Romania affiliate Antena 3’s reporter Cristian Popovici warned Friday that as the hours pass, incredible scenes such as these will become less frequent. “The chances of this happening are less than 1%, especially because of below-freezing temperatures recorded here at night.
“It is truly a miracle, unfortunately we see less and less of those now, but it is happening and that’s what all these people here are working for, to continue saving lives.”
The miraculous rescues seen over the past week have been scenes of incredible joy mixed with sadness, as some children are pulled alive from the rubble of their homes only to find that the rest of their immediate family did not survive. Aid agencies warn it’s too early to say exactly how many children have been left orphaned in the tragedy.
CNN’s Isil Sariyuce, Gokce Katkici, Eyad Kourdi and Hande Atay Alam contributed reporting.