KATHMANDU, Nepal - The 15-year-old boy had been buried alive under the rubble of this quake-stricken capital for five days, listening to bulldozers clearing mountains of debris, fearful the incessant aftershocks might finally collapse the darkened crevice where he was trapped.
And then, "all of the sudden I saw light," Pempa Tamang said, recounting the moment Thursday he was pulled from a hole at the bottom of what was once a seven-story building in Kathmandu.
Tamang did not know whether he was alive or dead. "I thought I was hallucinating," he said.
The improbable rescue was an uplifting moment in Nepal, which has been overwhelmed by death and destruction since the 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Saturday. By late Thursday, the government said the toll from the tremor, the most powerful recorded here since 1934, had risen to 6,130 dead and 13,827 injured.
After night fell, police reported another dramatic rescue: A woman in her 20s, Krishna Devi Khadka, was pulled from a building in the same neighborhood as Tamang near Kathmandu's main bus terminal, according to an officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to talk to the media.
"Life has become a struggle to survive. It gives us hope," said Hans Raj Joshi, who watched Tamang's rescue. "We thought they were only bringing out the dead. It's hard to believe people are still alive."
When Tamang was finally extricated, rescue workers inserted an IV in his arm, propped him onto a yellow plastic stretcher - the same kind that has helped convey countless dead - and carried him through the ruins on their shoulders as if he was a newly crowned king.
Lines of police stood on both sides, keeping back mobs of bystanders and journalists. A dazed Tamang, wearing a dark shirt with the New York Yankees logo and the words "New York Authentic," blinked at the bright sky.
When the procession turned a corner and entered the main road outside, there was a sound Kathmandu hadn't heard in days: the jubilant cheers of thousands of ecstatic onlookers.
Nepal, however, is far from normal. More than 70 aftershocks have been recorded in the Himalayan region by Indian scientists in the last five days, according to J.L. Gautam, the director of seismology at the Indian Meteorological Department in New Delhi.
Shortages of food and water and worry over the fate of relatives have triggered an exodus from the capital, prompting thousands to board buses provided by the government to their rural hometowns.
"I have to get home. It has already been so many days," said Shanti Kumari, with her 7-year-old daughter, who was desperate to see family in her home village in eastern Nepal. "I want to get at least a night of peace."