Logan-Rogersville water rescue team explains avoiding life-threatening car stalls in floodwaters

Published: Mar. 29, 2023 at 6:35 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 29, 2023 at 7:03 PM CDT
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ROGERSVILLE, Mo. (KY3) - The deaths of three people during flash flooding in the Ozarks this past week has once again brought attention to the potential dangers of stalled cars in rapidly rising water.

49-year-old Anette L. Mesicek was swept away by floodwaters Thursday night at the Finley River Crossing on Route Z south of Fordland while two other occupants of her vehicle survived.

That same night in Wright County, an SUV was swept about 1,000 feet downstream off the Parks Creek bridge on Highway M. Four of the six occupants survived, but 19-year-old Alex Roman-Renelli and 20-year-old Devin Holt did not.

In both deadly flash flooding events, authorities pointed to the fact that the combination of darkness and heavy rains likely made it difficult for drivers to see the rushing waters.

The Logan-Rogersville Fire Protection District took part in eight water rescues during this most recent flooding, including the fatality event near Fordland, and Chief Richard Stirts offered advice on avoiding that scenario.

“I would be super cautious if I saw that we’ve had more than 2-3 inches of rain in an area,” he said. “If there’s a flash flood warning, slow down because, at night, you cannot see that water. Your lights reflect off the water, and before you know it, you’re in the middle of a dangerous situation. If you’re not from an area and the ditches are full of water, you need to be careful because you don’t know what’s around the next bend, whether it’s standing water or another car on your side of the road. And even if you know the area, some of the places you’ve made it through before doesn’t mean you’ll be able to make it through today. We all need to be a little more patient. We all take risks in our lives, but sometimes we take unwarranted risks and pay the consequences.”

If you do get caught in a car flooding situation, experts agree that you should stay with the car if possible to keep from getting swept away. If the water inside the car rises up to your seat, it’s time to get on the roof of the car. And since your electric windows may not work, you should carry one of the several different models available of emergency window punchers.

Some of them are long-wrench-looking devices that also include a blade to cut yourself out of the seatbelt, while others are small spring-loaded devices that look like an ice pick.

“It wouldn’t hurt to have on some clothing that can protect you from pieces of flying glass, and you’ll either want to have on some glasses or close your eyes when you do it,” explained Logan-Rogersville Assistant Fire Chief Tim Clarkson. “Then, when you’re ready, lean back from the window, press the device up against the window and push on it. Once the glass breaks, you can clean it out of the opening and climb out the window.”

While some drivers find themselves in life-threatening situations that are not of their own making, those who work on the rescue teams say most of the time that traumatic events can be avoided.

“There’s definitely more situations where people put themselves in that position knowing that the waters there yet they drive through it,” Clarkson said. “They choose to do it rather than not knowing it’s there. I think a lot of people have the ‘it won’t happen to me’ mentality.”

“Every flood event, we see people driving around barriers,” Stirts added. “We had a call for a water rescue this time where the folks drove out in the water to take a picture for Facebook, Instagram, or whatever social media they wanted it for. But while you’re impressing your friends, somebody is running lights and sirens to come save you. Those people who take an unnecessary risk are putting other people’s lives in danger too.”

Stirts also pointed out that flooding is becoming more prevalent because of man-made contributions.

“Our flooding issues are getting worse as we go forward with development,” he said. “As we add more houses, parking lots, asphalt, and concrete, it increases the run-off in our metro area, then it spreads out more into the rural areas. Grass and dirt play an important part in absorbing water, so the more of that we remove, the more flooding you’re going to see. It’s been happening here in Greene County for the last 10 years. All the normal low spots and sinkholes that hold water are 6-8 feet deep instead of 2-4 feet deep. So as we continue to develop the land, we’ll continue to see this run-off problem as well.”

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