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Couple Survives After Nevada Flash Flood Swept Away Minivan

Severe Late-Summer Storms Sweep the Midwest 1:42

A California couple on a cross-country road trip are counting their blessings after a coffee break in the rain nearly cost them their lives.

Loren and Margie Miller left their Fresno home on Monday for Florida, embarking on a three-week drive in their Toyota Sienna minivan that was supposed to include a stop at a golf course in Utah and a visit with their son in Kentucky. But only hours in, the couple, who are in their 70s, got caught in a flash flood in Nevada that enveloped their car and sent Margie bobbing nearly 200 yards downstream, gasping for air.

"It was really, really scary and almost surreal," Loren said of the rushing water, which swept their minivan off an off-ramp during a pit stop in Moapa Valley, about 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas. It had been pouring while they drove through Nevada, Loren said, but the rain had let up — and then came down in a deluge again.

"We were just spinning around," Loren said. Afraid the rising water would submerge the car before they could escape, Margie opened the passenger door. But the pull of the water was stronger than she expected.

"I had a grip on her left hand, and she said 'I can't hold on anymore,'" Loren said. "And then she just was gone. That was the scariest part."

Loren and Margie Miller. NBC News

Loren watched in horror as his wife drifted away in the torrent, and then realized his own life was in danger, too. He climbed on top of his minivan as the water crept higher, not knowing what would happen to Margie.

Both were quickly rescued: A Las Vegas police officer spotted Margie and was able to pull her to safety. Some construction workers saw Loren, and threw him a rope, which he tied around his wrist and used to drag himself through the water onto land. The couple reunited later with only cuts and bruises. Their muddy minivan, which was thrust into concrete pillars along the highway, is totaled, Loren said.

Loren, 70, held back tears as he recalled the moment he saw that Margie, 75, was alive. "God made a difference. We prayed. He saved us."

The couple is getting a rental car and heading home to Fresno, but wants to try their cross-country trip another time.

"We're coming back sometime [to Nevada]," Loren said. "We want to reconnect with some of these wonderful people."

— Elizabeth Chuck