The water temperature was a frigid 53 degrees. The young woman had been clinging to a tree limb in the surging Potomac River for more than half an hour. And now she could no longer feel her legs.
Logs and limbs swept past her on the frothing brown torrent, and as a television helicopter camera beamed the dramatic scene live Monday afternoon, the huge, flooded river seemed ready to swallow her.
Suddenly, at 2:04 p.m., a blue Montgomery County swift-water rescue boat appeared, battling upstream against the raging current. “Hurry up!” the woman cried. “I need to get out of the water!”
As the boat approached, firefighter Peter Gillis, wearing a helmet and an orange “dry suit,” leaned off the bow and swatted the tree branches aside. “Hang on,” he said. “We’re right behind you.”
Then he grabbed her. “I have you,” he said. “Let go.”
She seemed to hesitate, and he insisted: “Let go.”
Cold and exhausted, the 31-year-old kayaker from Woodbridge released her grip and was yanked into the rescue boat by Gillis and Master Firefighter Chad Pollard, ending a struggle that the boat crew said the river often wins.
Water from the weekend downpours swelled the Potomac on Monday, pushing it over its banks from Harpers Ferry to Georgetown and prompting a day of rescues and evacuations.
Twenty Boy Scouts and adult chaperones were rescued early Monday after they were trapped by rising water along the Potomac at White’s Ferry, Montgomery County fire officials said.
About 6:15 a.m., rescue teams used a helicopter and a boat to pluck the Scouts from a campground that had become cut off from the C&O Canal by rising water, fire officials said. No one was injured.
The Scouts had stopped there for the night during a hiking trip, fire officials said.
Just before 4 a.m., four campers were rescued from waist-deep water at Marble Quarry Campground in Dickerson, fire officials said. The group’s campsite on the river began to flood, and they tried to move to dry land but ended up in deeper water, fire officials said. The group was rescued by boat.
Read more at http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/rescuers-win-a-battle-with-the-river/2011/04/18/AFfNvf1D_story.html