Swept away by floodwaters, saved by a tree branch: Survivor recounts ordeal

Swept up by flood, she "lost everything, but survived" 2:22

As a four foot wall of water swept through her cottage and pulled her to the bottom of the raging floodwaters, Laura Hunter had only one thought: “How am I going to get out of this?”

The answer? A tree branch. Hunter, 49, clung onto the limb for dear life as the torrents swept past her through the Colorado town of Manitou Springs on Friday night.

Laura Hunter, 49, addresses reporters at Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Monday. Jerilee Bennett / Colorado Springs Gazette via AP

Despite having a broken leg and foot, she found the strength to pull herself on to a nearby embankment where she screamed for help until neighbors were able to rescue her.

Hunter recounted Monday how she had been sitting in her cottage when the mud and debris burst into the living roof, NBC station KUSA reported.

"How am I going to get out of this?" Hunter said was her first thought as the water pulled her under.

“It slams you down and then you are stuck under there for a long time, hoping that you are going to pop up soon so you can breathe,” she added. "Never, never in my life would I have anticipated that. I had no time to gather anything, my pets or anything.”

Emerging at the other end of her street, Hunter spotted a tree and grabbed it, before pulling herself to safety.

She said the cold water and the adrenaline limited the pain in her foot.

After her cries for help were eventually heard, she was taken to the Penrose St. Francis Hospital in nearby Colorado Springs.

The flood and mudslide were triggered when nearly 1.5 inches of rain fell in 30 minutes over an area stripped of vegetation by a 2012 wildfire, authorities said. Fountain Creek jumped its banks from the heavy rainfall, and floodwaters cascaded down mountainsides onto a narrow canyon highway. 

Police said the body of a 53-year-old man was found outside his vehicle under a pile of debris along the roadway. Two other people also reported missing have since been accounted for, authorities said. 

Volunteer rescuer Jesse Rochette searches the floodwaters for anyone trapped or stranded on Friday in Manitou, Colo. Michael Ciaglo / Colorado Springs Gazette via AP

Manitou Springs Police Chief Joe Ribeiro said Saturday that initial damage assessments revealed six buildings in the downtown area were unsafe to enter and another 11 sustained some structural damage. Additionally, about 40 vehicles swept away by the flood and mudslide were towed out of the debris, he added. 

Hunter said her home was destroyed by the floods and that she had lost her two cats, Sally and Wiggles.

“It’s just a slab,” she said.

But she added that the tragedy had given her a new lease of life.

“I’ve never been married,” she said. “And I want to get married and I’m single, so I’m just letting everyone know that. I survived.”

Reuters contributed to this report.