URUMQI, China – China's May earthquake took nearly 70,000 lives. On Wednesday, in a certain sense, it gave one back.
Zhang Xiaoyan, who had been trapped under the rubble for 50 hours while eight-months pregnant, delivered a healthy baby girl Wednesday, in a tender coda to the massive tragedy. All through the ordeal, Zhang said, she had hoped only for her daughter to be born.
"Even if I didn't make it, I just wanted my baby to survive. I was holding out hope during the earthquake that this day would come," Zhang, 35, said Wednesday as she reclined in a hospital bed in the Urumqi Maternal Care Hospital in her home region of Xinjiang in China's far west. Her daughter, swaddled in a pink floral blanket, lay beside her.
Zhang named the pink-cheeked, 7-pound, 4-ounce girl Ai, or love, in honor of the rescue workers and strangers who have showered her with kindness, gifts and VIP treatment in the month since she was pulled out of the debris.
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Zhang's rescue in the city of Dujiangyan set off celebrations among soldiers and fire crews who had dug, cut and hammered painstakingly through debris in Zhang's half-collapsed seven-story apartment building, which they feared could come crashing down at any minute. Zhang and her 63-year-old mother, who was also rescued, had been trapped under about 18 feet of bricks and cement slabs.
In the final moments, a backhoe was maneuvered into place and Zhang gently placed inside. An excited, overjoyed rescuer gave a thumbs-up and onlookers burst into cheers and applause.
Reporters who had anxiously watched the slow progress for hours high-fived each other and Sun Guoli, fire chief of the provincial capital, Chengdu, who was overseeing the operation, declared it "a miracle of life, using one's life to save a life."
The image of rescue workers pulling Zhang onto a stretcher, her stomach protruding from under a blue sweater and pink pants, was played on TV screens and newspapers across the country.
Taken on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance amid a throng of photographers and cameramen, Zhang was rushed first to a damaged hospital in the even more devastated town before being transferred to a bigger facility in Chengdu and declared out of harm's way.
A celebrity since she was taken to the Urumqi hospital, Zhang said she was grateful for all the care and attention she has received from the medical staff, who banded together to donate new sets of clothes and presents for her and the baby.
The family are now among the 5 million quake homeless and Zhang said she plans to stay in Xinjiang with her mother until living conditions improve in Sichuan. She had moved there after high school in Xinjiang, and met her husband there.
Her husband, Pan Yuncheng, a native of Sichuan, remains in Dujiangyan, where he is living in a refugee camp.
The couple talked to each other briefly by telephone Wednesday during an interview set up by a local radio station.
"I want to thank all the people that were helpful. It was very moving," he said, as his daughter gave out a loud cry over the phone.