As journalists, we often cover very personal stories relating to the natural disasters like Hurricane Irene and the more recent storm a few nights ago, remnants of Tropical Storm Lee.
Harrowing stories that come from these disasters are so touching and gripping and make many of us thankful to keep those we value—family and friends—close to us. As a journalist, it reminds me of the objective of my job: to inform my community, tell their stories and hope there is something to be gained whether its knowledge or action.
Early Thursday morning, I found myself on the other side of the story. So in the spirit of journalism, I opted to tell my story with hopes to inform others on the dangers of flooding.
I was driving home from an event I attended in Washington, D.C. The storms, while leaving our nation's capital, were very scary and seemed to travel north as I did. Although they were pretty harsh, I didn't anticipate what I would deal with once I arrived back into Pennsylvania.
On Interstate 95, near the Philadelphia International Airport, the thought of flooding first entered my mind as I saw what seemed like buckets of water dumping from the sky with nowhere for it to go. I saw fire trucks respond to a couple of vehicles stuck in standing water on some of the side streets. However, I thought, as long as the highway was clear I would be OK.
I tried to enlist the power of positive thinking: Just take it slow and steady.
The inclement weather was a big factor in my delay arriving back into Levittown which should have happened hours earlier. My son was staying with a family friend. Against my better judgment, I chose to still pick him up in spite the fact it was now nearly 3:45 a.m. I was thinking of what we had to do the next day.
In any case, I carried on. I took the exit for Bristol off I-95. As I approached Veterans Highway, I noticed it was closed and so I followed the detour signs to go around it. By this point, the severity of storms compounded or at least it appeared that way. Not only was visibility a huge issue, there were loud thunder claps and it seemed as if my windshield wiper blades could not provide any respite from the heavy rain fall.
I finally arrived at my friend's home and woke my poor little guy up to head home. The mother in me felt extremly guilty for having to wake him up and bring him into bad weather, but as a divorced parent you find yourself doing things you normally wouldn't, especially if your support system—family and friends—as in my case, is scattered. I digress.
Again, it was very difficult to see and, trusting my GPS, I turned right onto Trenton Road and approached an intersection with what looked like a puddle. Before I knew I it, the water consumed my car and we stalled out.
I tried to restart my car and head into reverse since going forward was not a viable option. Again and again my car stalled out. At this point, the water seemed like it covered my wheels halfway. I put my hazard lights on and again, proceeded to start my car and back-up to no avail. I realized I need help. It was now 4:12 a.m. I called 911.
I was worried, but I had to keep my composure since my 12-year-old son was sitting next to me and I didn't want to worry him. I took two minutes to explain to the 911 operator that we were stuck and needed assistance. He assured me a fire truck would respond as soon as possible to pull my vehicle out of the water -- to sit tight and wait.
I opened my windows and could see a no one around. I did eventually notice a truck on the other side of the intersection with its hazard lights on and thought, "Either they are stuck or they see me stuck or both."
However, six minutes later, my attention was drawn to my feet which started to feel wet. Water was pouring into the base of my car. It was coming in quickly on all sides. I completely lost my composure and started panicking.
"What am I going to do now?" I said. For me, prayer seemed like the only option at this time.
Meanwhile, my 12-year-old son turned into more of an adult at the right time.
"Mom calm down. We'll be OK," he said.
But all I could think is, "Please God, don't let my son or I drown in a car full of water."
Opening our car doors to get out was not an option as we would've let all the surrounding water in. I called 911 again. I told them to come quick; water is pouring into the car and we can't get out or drive since the car is stalled out. The operator said help would arrive soon, but I asked what else we could do. He asked if I could push the car out. I told him I couldn't by myself. My cell phone battery was dying, and so I told the operator I would have to hang up in the chance they needed to call me back.
By this point, I looked around and now saw the man who was in that truck approach, on foot, the corner of the street closest to us. With the water reaching his mid calves, he yelled out from afar and asked if we need help. He said he also called 911 and they were on their way. I yelled back, "Yes! Please help us!"
I told my son to get into the driver's seat as I climbed out the driver's side window. When I got my feet on the ground, both the man on the street and I gasped. We did not realize how deep the water was. It reached my waist and was rising -- quickly.
"Holy crap!" he yelled. "The water is even deeper where you're at."
"Please help us!" I yelled.
He waded throught the water as quickly as he could. We put the car in neutral and my son maneuvered the steering wheel as we pushed the car in reverse through this makeshift pond with heavy rain falling on us.
We pushed the car until it seemed like there was less water around it. Then, I grabbed this stranger and gave him the tightest hug I could, clearly upset, but very thankful for his help.
"God bless you. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" I said. My son followed with his sincere gratitude and a, "You're cool man. Thank you."
At first, this Good Samaritan did not want to give me his name. But finally, this stranger who was there at the right place and right time, responded by saying his name was just "Bobby."
"Bobby, THANK YOU!" I said.
Bobby, my son and I warned motorists we saw heading in our direction to turn around and not chance it. Fortunately, they listened.
Next, I tried starting my car a few times. Finally, it started!
By 4:33 a.m., I called 911 back and said we were helped by a Good Samaritan and urged them to alert other motorists or close the road so no one else would face what we did. Unfortunately, the help from 911 did not arrive in more than 21 minutes we were stuck. It makes me wonder what else could have happened: "What if...?"
I still don't know Bobby's last name, but I do know that without the kindness of this one stranger, the outcome could've been very different.
As the emergency sirens blarred in Bristol, we were finally headed back home ... again. This time, we took a series of different routes to avoid any standing water—a zig-zag of highway and roads. We saw dozens of cars stalled out, trucks even, along the roads. Some were even in what appeared to be water-related crashes. I prayed we would make it back home in one piece.
At exaclty 5 a.m., I pulled in front of my home and started crying and thanking God we made it back home OK.
Days later, my car is still soaking wet, but my son and I are OK and that's what truly counts.
I spent the better part of Thursday upset as I weighed the gravity of the situation and counted each and every blessing over and over again. It was a very scary experience for my son and I. Every chance we have, we give each other a hug and said, "I love you." I can only imagine the emotions of others who have been in similar situations.
It's not often we find ourselves on the opposite end of stories we've reported.
I reached out to a local official Thursday who said the local call center may still have my 911 calls on tape. I'm working now on getting that part of the story as a follow-up so readers can see journalists are not immune to the stories they cover. After all, we're human too.
I hope this personal account can serve readers as a discretionary tale to never underestimate the power of water.