A water rescue effort north of Montrose saved a mother and daughter after flood waters swept their van away.
Effingham County Dive Rescue Team members were called before midnight on July 30 to the emergency in Cumberland County after chest-high water forced the mother and a 10-year-old on the top of flooded-out van. Dive Team Commander Terry Trueblood said if the raging waters had tipped over the vehicle it could have turned out a tragedy.
"The van was swept down about 50 yards and lodged in some trees. That was fortunate because the water was raging so fast that it could have tipped the van over if it kept moving. That water was up about 5 feet and moving at 5 knots. Their lives were in danger," Trueblood said.
Dive Team members arrived with equipment as well as Cumberland County Sheriff’s deputies and emergency services personnel to the flooded area about four miles north of Montrose and near in Cumberland County. The flood victims used a cell phone to call for help through the Sheriff’s office.
Trueblood said the rescue effort used an inflatable boat to carry dive team personnel out to the van. Lighting was set up to help direct the rescuers. The victims were given lifejackets and then secured into the boat for transfer out of the flood waters. They were not injured during the ordeal and checked at the scene by emergency medical personnel.
It sounds like a simple operation that was successful within a few minutes after the preparations, but Trueblood said training and experience of dive team members helps during these emergencies.
"We have to know how to handle the inflatable boat and hold it steady to get alongside a vehicle. And you don’t want to damage the motor in any brush or debris," Trueblood said. "I had some of my best guys out there for this one and they did a great job."
This rescue should remind area residents that flash flood warnings even in the summer should not be taken lightly. Trueblood said just a small amount of fast-moving water over a roadway can sweep away a vehicle.
Traveling in the countryside at night during or after heavy rainfalls can be dangerous with high water across roadways.
"People driving then don’t know the road is covered. They can hit a sinkhole from the flooding and drop down. If the ground is saturated from a lot of rain then a gully washer can spill over a road," Trueblood explained.
He said flooding in towns can cause other dangers such as downed power lines hidden by water.
The dive team commander also advised against makeshift rescue efforts. A well-intentioned untrained rescuer could end up a victim. Calling a dive rescue team – there are also teams in Shelby and Moultrie counties in addition to the one in Effingham County -- can prevent such a tragedy.
"It’s not about throwing a rope to someone. If you throw a rope, you can die. A lot of our guys are police and firefighters. We’re trained for doing something special out there," Trueblood said.
If a flood victim comes out unharmed physically after a rescue, Trueblood said there is another health threat to consider.
"Going through this causes trauma, especially for a child. They need to consider having counseling or they may not sleep well at night," Trueblood said.