Mother and daughter were entombed in eternal night, and their only food, a jar of jam, was gone. Tons of smashed concrete around them had become their prison. "Mommy, I'm so thirsty, I want to drink," cried the 4-year-old girl.
Susanna Petrosyan said she was trapped flat on her back. A prefabricated concrete panel 18 inches above her head and a crumpled water pipe above her shoulders kept her from standing. She wore only a slip, and it was horribly cold.Beside her in the darkness lay the lifeless body of her sister-in-law, Karine. She had been crushed by falling walls and died pinned beneath rubble one day after the Dec. 7 earthquake leveled much of Leninakan and other towns in northwestern Armenia.
"Mommy, I need to drink," sobbed Mrs. Petrosyan's daughter, Gayaney. "Please give me something."
"I thought my child was going to die of thirst," Mrs. Petrosyan, 26, recalled. "I had no water, no fruit juice, no liquids. It was then I remembered that I had my own blood."
Although she was trapped in darkness, she could slide on her back from side to side. Her groping fingers, numb from the cold, found a shattered glass. She sliced open her left index finger with a shard and gave it to her daughter to suck.
The drops of blood weren't enough. "Please, Mommy, some more. Cut another finger," Mrs. Petrosyan remembers her daughter saying. The woman made more cuts in her flesh, feeling nothing because of the bitter cold. She put her hand to her child's mouth, squeezing her fingers to make more blood come.
"I knew I was going to die," Mrs. Petrosyan said. "But I wanted my daughter to live."
Many stories of courage have emerged from the earthquake in Armenia, but few, if any, are as touching or harrowing as the tale Susanna Petrosyan told this week in a soft voice from her Yerevan hospital bed.
Around 11:30 a.m. on the day of the quake, she said she and her daughter were driven by Mrs. Petrosyan's husband, Gerkham, a shoemaker, to the apartment building on Leninakan's Kamo Street where Karine lived.
Mrs. Petrosyan, a petite woman with thick black hair and curving eyebrows, wanted to try on a black dress with puffed shoulders that Karine had for sale.
It fit her perfectly. As she took it off at 11:41 a.m., the fifth-floor apartment began to tremble, then shake violently.
Dressed only in a slip and her underwear, she grabbed Gayaney, wearing a heavy winter sweater, and ran to the door. Then the floor opened up and the 36-unit building collapsed.
The three fell into the basement, with the nine-story building crumbling around them.
Although trapped on her back, Mrs. Petrosyan found a 11/2-pound jar of blackberry jam that had fallen to the basement from Karine's pantry. On the second day of their captivity - the day Karine died of her injuries - she gave the entire jar to Gayaney to eat.
Mrs. Petrosyan said she found a skirt, perhaps the one she had tried on, and made a bed for Gayaney to lie on. Despite the bitter cold, she took off her stockings, and wrapped them around her daughter to keep her warm.
As the days passed, and Gayaney's pleas for something to drink become more pressing, her mother remembered something she had seen on television.
"It was a program about an explorer in the Arctic who was dying of thirst. His comrade slashed open his hand and gave his friend his blood," she said.
Losing track of time because of the unchanging darkness, Mrs. Petrosyan doesn't know what day she cut open her fingers, or how many times she used the method to feed her daughter
Gayaney cried that she wanted to go home. "I want to be back in my bed again and see my daddy," she said.
"I lost all hope," the mother said. "I was just waiting for death."
On Dec. 14, the eighth day of their captivity, rescue workers opened a small hole that let in a shaft of light. "We're saved!" Mrs. Petrosyan cried.
"There's a child in here, be careful not to hurt her!" she screamed as they got closer.
Her husband, a shoemaker, was uninjured by the quake. He was with the rescuers, and the two tearfully embraced. Mrs. Petrosyan was placed on a stretcher.
Mother and daughter were flown to Yerevan, Armenia's capital, 60 miles away. Gayaney was taken to Children's Hospital No. 3, Mrs. Petrosyan to the Armenian national hospital.
Gayaney was in intensive care for four days, hooked up to intravenous bottles that dripped liquids into her parched body.
Her temperature was dangerously low, her blood alarmingly thick and she was in shock, said Dr. Silva Nersesyan, her physician. The girl also was in a deep state of depression, and wouldn't talk or smile.
Mrs. Petroysan, also dehydrated, was given intravenous fluids and placed in a coffin-like box so that pressurized oxygen could be pumped around her as a treatment against exposure.
It was then that doctors discovered that the woman, who also has a 7-year-old son who was not hurt in the earthquake, is two months' pregnant.