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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Newlyweds Dug Out 5 Days Later

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BHACHAU, India — Just as bulldozers smashed into the wall of a quake-damaged three-story apartment, Russian rescuers heard a woman crying for help.

She and her new husband, pinned flat by concrete blocks, had survived for five days without food or water, sustained by each others' voices.

"They began to use that bulldozer. They broke a wall. Then they heard her crying," said Vladimir Boreiko, coordinator of the Emergency Situations Ministry team.

The rescuers stopped and scrambled after her cries. Frantically pulling up concrete slabs and chipping away at the rubble, the rescuers pulled out Kuntal Thakkar, 22, on Wednesday. Ghostly pale from the dust and with parched lips, she managed to tell them that her husband, Jayesh Thakkar, 26, was also alive.

He had been in the living room watching TV and she in the kitchen when last Friday's quake hit. Jayesh Thakkar's left hand was trapped by rubble and his bride was pinned under a cabinet.

"We were encouraging each other and telling each other to believe in the gods," Jayesh Thakkar said Thursday, only minutes before three fingers were amputated to prevent gangrene from claiming his whole arm.

They lived in a well-to-do neighborhood of Bhachau, a town of 30,000 about 65 kilometers southeast of the epicenter. The Thakkars are likely among the last survivors of the 7.7-magnitude temblor. Experts say few people could survive more than 100 hours buried in rubble.

As of Thursday, more than 14,200 bodies had been pulled from the rubble, and officials said the toll could reach as high as 35,000.

The Thakkars, married only six months, lay on cots across from each other Thursday in an Indian army triage tent. They told their story as bulldozers plowed through their dusty desert town and camels pulled carts filled with whatever families had salvaged from their fallen homes.

Jayesh Thakkar, wearing several days' growth of beard, was groggy with the drugs he had been given to prepare him for amputation. Kuntal Thakkar's long, dark hair was matted with dust, but a diamond sparkled in her nose and her gold earrings were in place.

A thick, blue wool blanket covered her cuts, scratches and bruises. Doctors said she was dehydrated and in shock, too delicate now to be told she had lost her baby. She had been two months pregnant.

"We talked about god and we cried together, we were so desperate to get out," Kuntal Thakkar said of their five days trapped in the rubble.

The Friday morning the quake struck, the Thakkars had finished breakfast. Jayesh Thakkar, a shopkeeper, was watching television in their second-floor apartment while his wife finished up in the kitchen.

He heard a rumble and rushed out. When he saw buildings falling, he ran back in to look for his wife. Both ended up trapped. They prayed to the preserver Vishnu and his helper, the monkey god Hanuman.

Jayesh Thakkar drank his own urine. His wife, her lower body trapped beneath the cabinet, survived with nothing to drink or eat.

"By the fifth day, I thought, 'We're dead, we're gone,"' she said. "But because I heard my husband's voice, I did not feel afraid."

When she heard the bulldozers begin to tear at their walls, she found the energy to cry out for help. A Russian rescue worker heard. As the 71-member team frantically tried to reach her, Jayesh Thakkar's brother, who had come from Bombay to search for him, shouted out that he was there.

"It's a miracle. I thank the Russian team and I thank God," said Anil Thakkar, who then climbed among the rubble to relay messages to his brother. "He's telling me he wants water, that he's safe, only his left hand is blocked so he can't come out," Anil Thakkar said.

Each time he went in, the Russian rescue team pleaded with the crowd to be quiet. He emerged to report his brother was answering his calls, saying, "I can see the light. I'm OK."

Minutes before Jayesh Thakkar was pulled to safety, under a crescent moon at about 7:45 p.m. local time, Boreiko screamed at the crowd to back away.

"If they drop this man, he will die! Don't crowd around him," the Russian rescuer said.

The Russians used knives and sticks to make a splint for Jayesh Thakkar's arm, wedging it with a brick as they lifted him out on a stretcher and covered him with a green and red floral blanket.

The rescuers and Indian soldiers locked arms to cordon off the scene and even restrained the brother.

Earlier that day and only a block away, the same team had rescued a 45-year-old man. The Russians have saved a total of 16 people since Sunday, Boreiko said.

Their efforts stunned India officials. Atanu Chakraburty, coordinator of Bhachau rescue efforts, said it was virtually impossible to find more survivors five days after the earthquake. "Today is the 31st. You can't be alive — unless you're Jesus Christ."

The Emergency Situations Ministry workers flew back to Moscow on Thursday night to medals and official congratulations. Members of the team said the unaccustomed hot weather was hard on their dogs, trained to find buried people. So they did much of their work at night, ORT television reported.