ALEXANDER COUNTY, N.C. — Leah Dula said there was no way she could stay calm after her van got carried away by floodwaters in Alexander County last weekend.

"I was freaking out," she told NBC Charlotte. "All these things were going through my head. What do I do? How do I get home to my kids?"

The single mother of four was driving her van from Hickory to Hiddenite on Highway 127 early Sunday morning.

"It was raining extremely hard. Windshield wipers on high, take it slow," she said.

Dula said she rounded a sharp curve, headed down a steep hill, and suddenly, she hit water.

"The current just took it and went with it," she said. "I tried to back up but every time I tried to move, the van just moved in the opposite direction of where I wanted it to go."

Dula tried calling 911 numerous times, but service was bad in the area. 

"I was crying hysterically," she said. "To my right, my van would go off into a ditch. It would have slid off the road sideways or it would have flipped off over the road. I would have been stuck under the water and I could have drowned."

In a video recorded by a passerby in that same area two hours later, when the water had gone down quite a bit, you can see what she's talking about. The van is just feet away from a dangerous dropoff.

Dula took video as well. She didn't want to stick her head out the window to see how deep the water was, so she held up her phone and hit record, capturing nearly 10 seconds of the water rushing around her van.

The mom was worried about what would happen if she tried to get out on her own. The water was up over her hood and at her window, plus there was debris floating everywhere.

"What if a log came down and hit me? What if I lost my footing? I could have gone up under my van and got stuck," she said. "I could have got out, and they could have been pulling a dead person out of the water."

Thankfully, Dula finally got through to dispatch. However, when her floorboard started flooding, she thought she was going to have to go it alone.

"I told dispatch if somebody doesn’t get here soon, I’m going out my window," she said. "I’ll either get on top of my van or I can try to make it back to the road or over into the pasture. But I can’t keep sitting here much longer."

Help arrived. Dula said a man arrived on scene at first, then the fire department showed up.

"They had 12 guys pulling us back onto the road, me and the gentlemen who got us out. That’s how strong the current was," she said.

As soon as Dula was safe, crews had to rush to another flooding emergency.

"They took the thing off my waist, and they had to go for another call whose vehicle was completely submerged in the water."

Dula said she's seen minor flooding at that spot before but nothing like what she saw on Sunday.

"I’ve seen a little standing water but never full on with water the way it was," she said. 

Her van was totaled, but Dula said the situation could have been a lot worse.

"I was just trying to get home. I’ve got four little ones," she said. "I was trying to get home to them."

Leah Dula and children
Photo: Leah Dula
Leah Dula


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