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A woman trapped in floodwaters in South Carolina Sunday said she clung to a large cross for five hours before rescuers were able to reach her.
Clara Gantt was heading from Blythewood to her church in Irmo at around 6 a.m. Sunday as torrential rains battered the state, and she mistakenly drove into a sheet of water covering a road, the grandmother told NBC station WIS in Columbia.
"I knew there was water out there, but I didn't know that it was going to stall me and it did," Gantt told the station.
At least 17 people have died in the historic floods that struck South Carolina this week, officials said. In Richland County, two people drowned when a pick-up truck drove into floodwater early Wednesday, authorities said.
Gantt’s car was swept from the road near Blythewood and into a field next to small church. She told WIS that she tried calling 911 but got no answer, but was eventually able to reach her family.
Her grandson, Travis Catchings, arrived with a harness and rope and was able to overcome the pressure of the rushing water to force open the car door, he told the station. "I don’t see how I did it. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Catchings said.
"Jesus is my savior. This story is not about me, it’s about what he did to save me. And he set my feet on higher ground."
They waited, and held on to a bright red cross on the church property, Gantt said.
"Where my car stopped was right behind a huge red cross. I was literally, after I got out of the car, holding on the cross. I was clinging to the cross literally," she told the station.
More than four hours went by. Several departments have been providing mutual aid to deal with flooding in the area, fire officials said, and it wasn't clear which department rescued the pair. A spokesman for Columbia Fire Department could not immediately provide details of the rescue Wednesday.
Catchings told WIS that he wasn’t sure rescuers would reach them in time, and he made what he thought was a last phone call to his wife.
"I really thought that was the last time that I was ever going to talk to her. I thought that was the last time that I’d ever going to hear her voice," Catchings told the station.
"It was the hardest phone call I’ve ever made. And I just told her that I loved her, and I didn’t know what was going to happen," he said. He was also able to document the rushing water as the pair waited for help.
Rescuers arrived and were able to save the pair, they said. Gantt took the location of the church, and the cross, as a sign.
"Jesus is my savior," Gantt told the station. "This story is not about me, it’s about what he did to save me. And he set my feet on higher ground."