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Flood Waters Carry Away 3-Year-Old Alexa

June 29, 1995

FRONT ROYAL, Va. (AP) _ When Roy Smith saw water swirling around the wheels of his Winnebago he decided his wife and 3-year-old granddaughter could no longer ride out a fierce rainstorm.

Smith waded several hundred yards with the child, Alexa Orantes, in his arms and left her on high ground while he returned to his wife. But Alexa _ apparently fearing her grandpa was in peril as he waded the current _ rushed into the water toward them and was swept away.

``She went to them because that’s the kind of person she was,″ Alexa’s mother, Anita Orantes, said as tears spilled down her face. ``She’d kiss your boo-boos and make them better.″

Alexa disappeared in the swift current Tuesday morning, and divers, dogs and boats searched the state’s mountainous northern tip all day Wednesday for the body. The search was to resume today.

Most of Virginia has been soaked with rain for a week. About 2,600 people were forced from their homes Wednesday in Rockbridge County, about 105 miles southwest of here. Some houses were washed away and about 800 were damaged.

``People were driven out, boated out, carried out, flown out _ we got them to safety any way we could,″ said Bill Todd, assistant fire chief in Glasgow, a town of 1,250 people in Rockbridge County where the Maury and James rivers converge.

In north-central Virginia, Doris Frisbie was still missing after her house was swept up in the currents Tuesday.

Alexa’s family met with a chaplain at a church a short distance from where the Smiths’ battered Winnebago ended up, wedged against a tree. Mrs. Orantes said her parents were devastated.

``They’re banged up, they’re bruised up and they’re blaming themselves,″ she said.

Alexa loved to go camping with her grandparents and had asked permission Monday to travel with them to the Warren County campground, Mrs. Orantes said.

``Oh, it’s just sad,″ said Pamela Marcon-Holt, manager of the Gooney Creek Campground where the Smith family was staying. ``I saw that little girl. I saw her go, and I could not get to her.″

Ms. Marcon-Holt was standing on her front porch when the creek quickly jumped the bank. The grandparents screamed over and over for Ms. Marcon-Holt to save the child, then wailed as Alexa went over, the woman said.

Six teams of dog handlers walked the stream banks Wednesday. After several dogs detected a scent at a debris-strewn area of the bank, divers and a raft went into the water.

``I’d like to think there is some hope, but that child was about 30 or 40 pounds, and just 3 feet high. And that was a mighty wall of water,″ said Donald Derner, a county emergency services coordinator. Derner was driving past the campground, checking for flooding, when he got word than the Smiths needed help.

``They were in the water up to their necks, and just hanging on,″ said Derner, who did not realize then the child was missing. ``When we got them out of there, I thought we had just completed a successful rescue.″

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