Sister Marjana Lleshi was asleep in her convent in Amatrice when the earthquake hit on Wednesday

By Dave Quinn
Updated August 27, 2016 09:55 AM
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Credit: Massimo Percossi/AP

Sister Marjana Lleshi was asleep in her room in the Don Minozzi convent beside the Church of the Most Holy Crucifix in Amatrice, Italy, on Wednesday when she was woken up by the walls collapsing around her.

It was 3:36 a.m. and the 35-year-old nun was in the middle of a devastating 6.2-magnitude earthquake, which would go on to kill at least 250 people and leave multiple towns in ruin.

In an interview Thursday with the Associated Press, Lleshi recounted the aftermath of the quake – and the story behind a photo captured of her in her blood-stained veil as she texted her family and friends to tell them she was alive.

A member of the Sisters of the Handmaidens of the Lord – an order that run nurseries and homes for the aged – Lleshi was in Amatrice along with six other sisters, caring for five elderly women.

The city would end up being the center of the devastating quake.

As she realized she was trapped in her room, Lleshi said she immediately tried to summon help outside of her room, to no avail.

Covered in dust and bleeding, she reached for her phone to contact her friends in her native home of Albania. She said she thought she would die.

“When I started losing all hope of being saved, I resigned myself to it and started sending messages to friends saying to pray for me and to pray for my soul,” she told the AP. “I said goodbye to them forever.”

Lleshi didn’t send those messages to her family, however. She explained, “I was afraid that my father would have an emotional collapse and die hearing something like that.”

Moments later, a young man who cared for one of the elderly woman at the home would call for her. Referring to him as her “angel,” he would pull her to safety while the ground was still shaking.

It was then that she once again reached for her phone on the side of the road, texting her friends and sisters to tell them she had survived.

The moment was captured by photographer Massimo Percossi of the Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata – Italy’s leading wire service.

“I had said ‘adieu,’ ” she recounted, “and in the end it wasn’t an adieu.”

RELATED VIDEO: At Least 267 Dead After Massive Earthquake Wipes Out Several Towns in Central Italy

Lleshi’s order lost three sisters in the tragedy, and four of the elderly women they had cared for. Lleshi herself is still getting medical checks for dust inhalation. Her head wound, which required stitches, is also still healing.

Now back home, she said she hopes to travel to Rome for the canonization of Mother Teresa on Sept. 4. She views the Albanian nun as “the symbol of Albania – of a strong woman.”