Only after her rescue Saturday from the rubble of a shopping mall did the young sales clerk learn she had been buried for 16 days.
Of all those astonished by her survival, no one was more amazed than Park Sung-Hyun herself, who believed she had been trapped only five days.Doctors still don't know how the 19-year-old survived, but the darkness that caused her to lose track of time may have helped by keeping her hopes alive.
Park was weak but stable Saturday after being pulled from a tiny pocket in the jumble of concrete slabs, a scratch on the leg her only visible injury.
"She said that she was thirsty, and she asked what today's date was," said Lee Yoo-mee, the nurse who initially treated Park. "When I told her the date, she replied that too many days had passed."
Park was the third survivor to be pulled this week from the remains of the five-story building, which collapsed June 29.
"I thought I would be lucky to have her remains returned to me. But what I have here is a miracle," said her father, tears running down his wrinkled face.
Doctors have said that with enough water, those who escape initial injury could live up to 20 days. But Park told doctors she had nothing to drink.
One doctor speculated her body functions had slowed to the point that she was able to survive without water. Others said Park may have been semiconscious and could have drunk rainwater but forgotten.
Her father said he did not allow himself to believe the person rescued was really his daughter until he got to the hospital. "Once I saw her, and checked for myself, then I could relax," he said.
"This is heaven answering my prayers," said her mother, Ko Soon-young. She had clasped her daughter's photograph to her heart every morning for the past two weeks, praying for her only daughter.
Doctors said Park should be able to eat thin gruel in a day. She's requesting ice cream, grape juice and shaved ice, her mother said.
The collapse of the Sampoong Department Store - blamed on faulty construction - was South Korea's worst peacetime disaster. More bodies were recovered Saturday, raising the confirmed death toll to 338.