09/20/04 — Local team makes daring water rescues

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Local team makes daring water rescues

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on September 20, 2004 1:57 PM

"We trained in swift water, but nothing that fast and not in those conditions."

Picture this -- winds howling and gusting up to 70 miles per hour. Raining falling at the rate of two inches an hour. Rivers and streams running 30 to 35 mph.

In the midst of all that, Wayne County firefighters and deputies used rope and 8-man rubber rafts to reach people stranded and trapped by flood waters.

"It was so loud that you couldn't holler loud enough to be heard 15 feet away," Chief Bill Harrell of the Mar Mac Volunteer Fire Department said this morning. "We had to use hand signals and lights to communicate.

"It was just terrible."

For three days last week, the Arr-Mac water rescue team, composed of Mar Mac and Arrington Road firefighters, and the dive team from the Wayne County Sheriff's Office were the group doing swift water rescues in Yancey County, north of Asheville at the Tennessee line.

The group left Goldsboro at 6 a.m. Thursday and arrived at its base, a Yancey County fire station, before the remnants of Hurricane Ivan reached the N.C. mountains. The rain Friday was so heavy that a river rose 25 feet in four hours and then fell in about the same.

"It came in quite a hurry, and it left in quite a hurry," Harrell said.

The water rescue group was called out to free people trapped in vehicles that were swept off roads and to check on people in remote homes. It rescued four people and assisted perhaps a dozen more, Harrell said.

"We were excited and happy and scared. You'd go through every emotion every few hours," Harrell said.

They returned home at 10 p.m. Saturday. By that point, Yancey County was mainly facing a cleanup and rebuilding effort, the chief said. "The people there are pretty resilient."

The firefighters and deputies left with intense memories and a feeling of satisfaction, Chief Harrell said. "A lot of people train but may never get a chance to use it. This is what we've been working for."