Nothing so powerfully illustrates the awesome fortitude of mothers than the dying woman who gave birth in the rubble, writes LIBBY PURVES

Somehow it feels even more shocking than a combat zone: the violence of natural disasters shakes even this cruel and warlike age with its unfair blows against quiet domestic intimacy.

When the shuddering and crashing began, people in Turkey and Syria were at home just going about their routines: innocent, asleep or maybe planning the next direction for their work, life or love.

As the Mail reported yesterday, some were actually giving birth, the most private and familiar of miracles: across the world hearts shook at the account of a newborn baby dug from the rubble in the Syrian town of Jindires, by the Afrin river.

The infant girl was alive, still attached by the umbilical cord to her dead mother. The woman, Afraa, will have gone through the usual pains and efforts of childbirth and hoped good things for her baby. Maybe as she died she will have known it was a daughter; maybe she had a brief moment to be glad of her arrival.

Newborn baby is delivered and rescued from the rubble in Syria

Pictured: A newborn baby who was found still tied by her umbilical cord to her mother and pulled alive from the rubble of a home in northern Syria following a deadly earthquake receives medical care at a clinic in Afrin, on February 7, 2023

Now she is one of the thousands of dead, but her unnamed child will find warmth. She was discovered by Khalil al-Sawadi, who is her father’s cousin, and a brother-in-law. Another cousin ran to a hospital through the choking dust with her in his arms, while Khalil continued digging for others.

The bodies of the baby’s parents, along with four siblings and an aunt, were laid out in a neighbour’s home for the funeral: prayers said, dignity and grief respected.

Outside the search went on; at the beleaguered hospital, Dr Maarouf tended the baby’s bruises and hypothermia. She is a survivor. Her life must be made to count.

That family, like many others, had already been displaced from another city in the recent years of fighting across this troubled region; for a natural catastrophe then to strike them in their new home is appallingly cruel.

Imagining personal disasters, bereavements, homelessness or humiliation, we with our easier lives far too readily think we would give up the will to live.

But when reality hits, human beings are not like that. They claw determinedly towards survival. That child’s extended family want her to live: in that harsh, poor region they will do their damnedest to ensure she does.

And we all need these robust proofs that where there is life there is hope. The thousands of deaths in this earthquake are profoundly shocking, but it is human instinct to seek keenly for stories of survivors, to reach out towards them mentally and send them solid help in whatever way we can.

For us, far away, it can be hard to find the right causes to help and keep up the momentum when the news cycle moves on. It takes discipline and mindfulness. But it is a good instinct: not just because we wince and find helplessness painful, but because we owe a tribute to the survivors as well as the searchers and healers.

Maybe seeing this hunger to affirm life touches parents especially hard: any mother knows the intensity of that will to survive.

We mourn Afraa of Jindires, but respect that she would have struggled both to save her other children and free the one who was signalling her arrival with those strong pains.

Afraa Abu Hadiya, the mother of the baby still tied to the unbilical cord when rescued, was found dead. Pictured: Mourners in the town of Jinderis, Aleppo province, Syria, bury her family members who died in the earthquake

Afraa Abu Hadiya, the mother of the baby still tied to the unbilical cord when rescued, was found dead. Pic

We salute Hulya Yilmaz in southern Turkey, too, who spent 29 hours trapped with her baby Ayse Vera under rubble, and must have been soothing and warming the child even as she faced death herself.

We may remember the extraordinary tale of the Mozambique floods in 2000 and the birth of Rosita Mabuiango. She was born in a tree above the swirling torrent — that had crocodiles in it, for God’s sake. Later, interviewed as a teenager, Rosita said this didn’t make her special — ‘it was just a different way of being born’.

But we know it was both special and inevitable that her mother Chirindza would do what she did: catch the baby in a loop of her sarong and survive clutching her for four days without food or drink before the helicopters came.

Or we may recall Karin Svard in the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, a mother running towards her children who were playing in the shallows as the wave approached. ‘I was so focused. . . ’ she said later. ‘I could see this white wall coming to me and it was coming faster. I did not care. I was looking at my children. I wanted to hold them and care for them.’

The 37-year-old Swedish policewoman was engulfed and eventually washed up on higher ground. Her three sons, husband and brother all survived.

Emotions run high as children pulled from rubble in Syria

Horror: Her comments come as officials said 9,057 people had died in Turkey (pictured: Hatay city centre) and 2,662 in Syria from Monday's 7.8-magnitude tremor, bringing the total to 11,719

Pictured: Destruction is seen in Hatay in southern Turkey, where rubble has collapsed on to a football field

Mothers at such times are heroic but men, too, run towards children at cost to their own lives, and seek to save them with passionate determination whatever it costs.

Even now in Turkey and Syria, many are digging, dogged and unstoppable, through the cold days and nights, for their own families and those of neighbours.

Another unforgettable image was of a small girl whose puzzled face emerged as a tiny patch of hope amid the brick-rubble. A White Helmet rescuer smoothed her hair and carefully dug around her with his other hand, saying her father was close.

Whether she still has a mother, siblings or other family we don’t yet know. But she’s there. Her people and the world want her safe.

The surge of human kinship in disasters can be almost overwhelming. Lately, here in East Anglia we have been commemorating the 1953 January floods, a storm surge that devastated the coast from Lincolnshire to Essex.

It was a small loss compared with this earthquake, but more than 300 people died and 40,000 were made homeless. One record describes the remarkable community rescue effort as a ‘spontaneous mobilisation’. While official action was slow, it was ordinary people who dashed to help, to save lives and salvage.

Pictured: Young Yigit cried as he was passed down a row of rescuers, who smiled as they carried the boy to safety in Hatay, Turkey

Pictured: Young Yigit cried as he was passed down a row of rescuers, who smiled as they carried the boy to safety in Hatay, Turkey

When Hurricane Katrina hit the poorest in New Orleans in 2005, again there was a too-slow state reaction. But, as one observer wrote, thousands of people only survived ‘because grandsons or aunts or neighbours or complete strangers reached out to those in need all through the Gulf Coast, and because an armada of boat owners went into New Orleans to pull stranded people to safety.’

There is a powerful will to help, whether it’s collecting clothes for refugees, donating or asking governments to hurry. It is not just pity — often a mawkish, useless emotion — but admiration.

We need to see heads rise, spirits revive. When I was a teenager with my father posted to Hamburg, we had a Polish-Jewish cleaner who one day, in her coffee break, told us her story. She had walked many miles across stricken Central Europe alone, and given birth in a ditch, helped by men passing by.

It was not the only such story we heard from my mother’s Polish friends. But there, 20 years later, was this hardworking middle-aged woman, remarried, proud of her son born in the mud, who was qualifying as an engineer. She did not express self-pity, just sadness for those who hadn’t survived.

I think of her often nowadays when we talk too easily of fragile emotional victimhood and being ‘broken’. Women are strong. Humans are strong.

Given a chance, when fate tries to cut them down, they defy it, want to flourish. It is a privilege and honour to help give them that chance.