Cummins Falls rescue: Unlike anything rescuers, rangers have ever seen

JACKSON COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – It’s been nearly a week since the water at Cummins Falls rose so fast, dozens of people were trapped by the fast-moving water.

At least 35 people were successfully rescue, but two women died in the flooding– Peggy McDaniel and Lisa Hillian. Rescuers were guiding those trapped by the water to safety. It was something they’ve all trained for, and yet unlike anything they’ve ever seen.

At the time, officials said the water rose three feet in just three minutes, but park rangers who work the park every day say it’s more like five feet in five minutes.

(Photo: Submitted)

Related: How to stay safe in swift water areas

Those park rangers were the first on the scene, both full-time and seasonal rangers, some college students working over the summer. Their immediate actions in the first few minutes upon arriving saved lives.

“We told everyone to stay where they’re at. Don’t try to cross the water, because people were definitely panicking. And the water is rising, so their first thought is, ‘Get out as fast as you can.’ We knew the river well enough to know it wouldn’t get much higher than that, and the safest spot was where the people already were,” explained Nathan Nelms.

Nelms is one of the seasonal rangers. He says it’s an experience he’ll never forget.

“When it happened, you don’t really think about what’s happening, and you always think about how great it would be to help someone in a powerful way. You don’t really think about it, it just happened that way,” Nelms explained.

At least half a dozen rescue agencies took part. Daniel Harris and Landon Davidson are part of the Putnam County Rescue Squad that was called in to help. They brought 13 people out of harm’s way.

“It definitely stands out. It went from a beautiful day, to when you get down there and you’re shaking your head. It just shows you how powerful Mother Nature is and how quickly things can change,” Davidson said.

Two lives were lost, but considering how many people were in the water, rescuers say the incident could have been even more devastating.

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