Two boys trapped in a snow pile for seven hours were able to hear their worried family's cries but could not respond loudly enough to be heard.
Police believe an air pocket saved the lives of Elijah Martinez, 11, Jason Rivera, nine, after a snowplough accidentally buried them.
The cousins were building a snow fort on Wednesday night across the street from Elijah's home in Newburgh, New York state, when the snowplough operator clearing a car park unknowingly pushed snow over them.
Buried in about five feet of snow, they could barely move and could not breathe very well, so they could do nothing as they heard the anguished cries nearby.
Jason lost his gloves and his hat fell off. They relied on each other to stay alive, they said, sharing Elijah's face mask to try and keep their hands warm and talking to each other so they would not fall asleep.
"I felt so tired. It didn't feel real that they were coming to get us," Elijah said at a news conference at the hospital where the boys were recovering.
Meanwhile, their parents were growing more frantic, calling police and searching through the snowy streets for the children who were mere feet from the apartment.
"I just kept telling myself: 'This is not true. This is not real,'" said Jason's mother Aulix Martinez. "It was just scary, and as time went on, it got scarier. I was begging the police to please find them."
At about 2am, police officer Brandon Rola spotted footprints that were disappearing as more snow fell. Then he saw a shovel.
"I felt led to dig," he said.
Rescuers saw the sole of a child's boot and then motion, digging faster as residents joined in the rescue, some with their bare hands in the pile of packed, wet snow.
"When I first hit the boot, you just try and stay positive and hopeful," Mr Rola said.
"You get that ray of hope and everybody just started working together trying to get these kids out. And as the snow kept coming come off, you started to see more and more movement and then you started to hear the voices and it was a very great feeling."
He said seeing the look of joy and hope in the boys' faces was a terrific feeling.
The boys were conscious but suffering from exposure.
"I felt so happy," Elijah said. "Everything we went through just fell right off my back."
"I'm just glad they got that big block off my chest, that was heavy," Jason said.
They were very thankful for the officer who found them. "I want him to be proud for what he did. I want him to have a good Thanksgiving, because he's a hero," Elijah said.
The cousins appeared healthy yesterday, and they said they wanted to eat and go to Disney World when they got home from hospital, although Jason's mother said she was not sure when they would be discharged.