Tales emerge of N.S. flood rescues, as towns grieve losses but grateful for heroism
By Michael Tutton, The Canadian PressHeadlines News Emergency & disaster management disaster response flooding Nova Scotia
July 26, 2023, Halifax – As torrential floodwaters dragged volunteer firefighter Logan Hope downstream, he held a woman’s head over the surface and focused on a single goal.
“There’s no way I was going to let go of her,” he said during an interview on Tuesday from his home in Scotch Village, N.S.
The 21-year-old’s rescue story – along with similar acts of heroism by other first responders – is a source of consolation in a part of Nova Scotia that is grieving the loss of two children and a 52-year-old man from Windsor, N.S., who died during the weekend flooding.
A search continued Wednesday for a youth who was swept into a flooded hayfield in the nearby Brooklyn, N.S., area early Saturday morning.
A series of punishing thunderstorms dumped up to 250 millimetres of rain on Nova Scotia beginning Friday night, carrying people into the water, damaging bridges, cutting off the province’s main railway line and tearing up portions of rural roads.
Hope was one of the firefighters called to respond early Saturday as water flowed down the main road past the home of Kimberly Gillingham, in Ellershouse, N.S., northwest of Halifax.
Gillingham, who has two transplanted lungs, said in an interview Tuesday from a hotel that it was terrifying for her to wake up after midnight to water pouring into her basement.
Her woodshed smashed into her home, whose foundation started to erode, as Hope set off across churning waters to reach her.
When Hope reached her door, the 55-year-old woman asked if he could retrieve medications that helped prevent her body from rejecting her transplanted lungs, which she received three years ago. Hope descended into the basement but couldn’t find the medicine, she recalled.
Now, aware of her medical condition, Hope held onto Gillingham tightly, keeping her above his head to ensure no water would enter her lungs as he tried to carry her to safety across the water flowing over Ellershouse Road, he said.
However, within seconds of entering the surging waters, the force of the current and the debris in it knocked Hope’s ankles out, and he started floating downstream.
Gillingham recalled, “I was panicking. I was freaking out. And he’s saying, ‘Kim, I got you. I got you. Don’t worry.'”
Hope, a former lifeguard, said he focused on keeping a tight hold. “I was just holding on to her, for dear life,” he said.
They travelled some distance. Hope says it was 50 metres – Gillingham recalls moving several hundred metres – before he managed to stand up on some ground near an embankment. By then, Gillingham had a broken leg and could not walk.
Hope said he recalled another volunteer firefighter, Dwayne Walsh, sliding into the water to grab them and bring them to safety. Walsh and other colleagues, he said, “saved my life. If my crew hadn’t been there, I don’t really know where I’d be now.”
The waters they were in were flowing toward the St. Croix River, a tidal waterway with currents that feed into the Bay of Fundy.
Hope said he’s on leave from his regular job because of a knee injury sustained during Gillingham’s rescue. It’s important for the public to appreciate the toll that events like the flooding take on rescue teams, he said. “People don’t really understand the circumstances that we’re suffering from.”
Jason Ripley, fire chief for Greenwich Volunteer Fire Department, said in an interview Tuesday similar rescue efforts were taking place around West and East Hants counties in the early hours of Saturday, as volunteers took risks to save their neighbours.
In Three Mile Plains, N.S., he oversaw a team of rescuers on safety lines attempting to reach a woman in a camper. They blew off course into a tree, where they discovered a man calling for help and clinging to branches. The team called a Cormorant helicopter to rescue the man, and another firefighter helped bring his colleagues back to shore, where they carried on saving multiple residents.
A spokesman for the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre said Cormorant helicopter rescue teams airlifted six stranded individuals to safety over the weekend.
The risks that first responders took helped prevent more tragedies, Ripley said. “I really feel for the families who’ve suffered a loss. And I’m aware, it could have been tenfold,” he said.
“I’ve never really ever seen that level of danger and that much risk taken by so many people as that (early Saturday) morning.”
After her rescue, Gillingham remained in the fire truck through the night as she awaited transport across a damaged bridge. She said she remembers the 911 calls flooding into the vehicle from stranded residents seeking help.
There was also a time of grieving silence in the truck when the crews realized after 4 a.m., four people, including two small children, had been swept into the waters near Brooklyn, N.S., which is located close to the fire station they report to.
By early morning, workers had strung a line across the broken bridge, and Gillingham was carried across to waiting paramedics who took her to hospital, where she received medication and care for her broken leg.
At a hotel on Wednesday, exhausted by her injuries and worried about the financial cost of restoring her damaged home, she said her body was covered in red, black and purple marks from being struck by floating debris.
But she said the two bruises under her arms are a reminder why she’s alive.
“That’s where Logan held onto me,” she said. “He saved my life.”
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