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‘A no-brainer:’ Man rescues struggling woman in NC flooding

September 19, 2018

SPRING LAKE, N.C. (AP) — Michael Cornelius was in the car Monday with his wife and their four children and trying to drive out of their waterlogged North Carolina community, when he became one of the many unsung heroes of Florence.

Spring Lake is a community of about 13,000 just outside Fayetteville. Although it’s about 100 miles inland from where the storm came ashore near Wilmington on the coast, it’s been inundated with flooding from the Cape Fear River.

In looking for a route out of town, Cornelius stopped at a flooded-out road, where floodwaters were pouring across the pavement. His home wasn’t flooded, but he wanted to check on family elsewhere.

“My wife rolled down the window and said, ‘Wow, look at that water,’” he recalled.

About 20 people were standing on water’s edge. He heard someone say, “Is that a guy out there?”

Indeed, there was a guy in the water. And a woman who appeared to be stuck near a guardrail, pinned by rushing current.

“The next thing you know, we started hearing them say ‘Help! Help! Help!’”

“I took off my shoes and my socks and got into the water,” said Cornelius, who is 34. The water was tea-colored and cold, but he and two other men waded in. Eventually, it was chest deep — and Cornelius is 6-foot-2.

“To be honest, the first thing I was thinking, this is a no brainer. Gotta rescue these people. But halfway, the water started getting to my waist. I thought, they probably got gators and snakes here. I’m from Louisiana. Am I gonna have to wrestle a gator today?”

One of the men had brought a tire strap, and wrapped it around the woman. Cornelius pulled her toward him so she’d make it through the current. He then carried her on his back to safety. As it turned out, she was blind. The other men who’d waded in helped her male companion, who was shirtless, wearing an American flag bandanna and also struggling against the current.

“It was just like a no brainer. Would you want somebody to do this for you? Yeah, I would,” said Cornelius.

Back on dry land, onlookers told Cornelius he was a hero. The dramatic rescue was captured on drone video by a North Carolina photojournalist.

“You did good, Daddy,” his daughter, still in the backseat, called out.

Cornelius shrugged off all the praise.

“I just feel like God places people in places he needs ’em.”

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For the latest on Hurricane Florence, visit https://www.apnews.com/tag/Hurricanes

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