Editor's note: Jasper County Sheriff's Department and Oblong police responded to the incident described in this column. Further information from the sheriff's department was unavailable at presstime.
On Saturday, April 8, I was on my way home from work when I started to pass by the road that I usually take to work which had been flooded from overflow of the Embarras River that morning. I stopped my car and backed up so that I could see if the water was down yet.
When I reached the levee just before the Yager Bridge on East 400th Avenue, I was shocked to find a car immersed and two people standing up to their chests in the flood water waving their hands at me. There was a young boy sitting on a tree branch beside them and the man was holding a young girl on his back.
I got out of my car, and they yelled to me to call 911 because they couldn't get across the deep part with the two kids who weren't able to swim. I told them that I had forgotten my cell phone that morning but that I would go up to the nearest house to get help. With a glimmer of hope now before them, the woman swam carefully across to the road. I got her a blanket from my trunk and we went to call 911,
The woman and man at the house where we stopped had no real means to help, but made the call to 911. I happened to notice a garden hose lying in their yard and grabbed it as we left.
We all headed back to the others and were joined by two men in a red truck whose names I do not know. They helped me get the hose out to the man who had waited patiently with the kids. The man then swam across with the girl on his back, holding onto his neck, and using the hose for added security. The two men holding the other end of the hose pulled him up to the road.
The first officer to respond arrived and put on his life jacket then went into the water after the boy. He struggled and couldn't get to the boy still sitting so bravely on the tree branch. With the current so strong and the deep drop between us and the boy, the mother insisted on being the one to go back in for her son.
So the mother put the life jacket on and tied the garden hose to it, heading back into the water. With the two men holding on to the hose, the first officer who had arrived and now a second officer that arrived, also holding on to the hose and following her into the water for extra leverage, she made it out to her boy and back to the road safely.
The neighbors who had called 911 were standing by to take the kids to their car to get warm. Then they took them on up to their house, where they waited for the ambulance.
The man and woman waited on the scene with the emergency rescue personnel, getting dried off and waiting for the ambulance.
The man and the woman stayed calm and focused, and the kids were remarkably brave and strong throughout the whole ordeal. I feel blessed to have been part of this miracle and thank God for the feeling I had telling me to go down that road at that moment on that day. It was on honor and privilege to be the one to find them and to be able to help them.
There is no way to know how long they could have been there before someone found them. Most people from the area know how the roads are around here when we have flash floods. The woman stated to the rescue personnel that she had been down that road the night before and there was no water across the road at all. When I went down the road that morning, the water couldn't have been more than a foot or so deep. Here it was eight and a half hours later and the water was at least four feet deep on the side where we were, and of course much deeper down in the middle.
This is a situation some people are not aware of. The flash flooding can still occur after the rain has stopped. It's so unpredictable. It hasn't rained here since Thursday night and Friday morning of last week. As I stated before, that road was clear Friday night and only slightly under water Saturday morning then fully flooded Saturday afternoon and still flooded Sunday morning. The Ste. Marie blacktop nearby was clear Saturday afternoon and covered with at least six to 10 inches of water when I was on my way to work Sunday morning. Two trucks were just approaching the water when I came over the hill and they went right past the "road closed" sign and into the water. Not me. I turned around and took the long way.