By Ms. Elizabeth M Lockyear (USACE)November 22, 2017
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Randy Flint and Mark Jackson, park rangers at Mobile District's Allatoona Lake, are spending this Thanksgiving here working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' debris removal mission. While they will miss their families at this time of year, they say they are thankful to be here.
"This is an honor and a humbling experience to give our best to Puerto Rico and our citizens," said Flint.
They were able to offer more than just technical assistance to one group of people the evening of Nov. 7. This particular evening Flint and Jackson were in a grocery store near the Doubletree Hotel when a deluge of approximately four inches of rain fell in half an hour, quickly flooding nearby streets and the store's parking lot. Water came into the store forcing Flint and Jackson to exit through the building's second floor. "This is surreal," Flint thought as he and Jackson waded to higher ground outside.
On their way, they observed several vehicles underwater. Then they saw an SUV float by -- with a woman inside, seemingly paralyzed in shock.
Jackson and Flint said the initial thought running through their minds was "These folks just went through the immense disaster of two hurricanes and survived, they began to rebuild, and now this is happening?"
"We were witnessing a brief glimpse of the terror that Puerto Rico must have felt in this one woman's face," Flint said.
Deciding to jump in and assist was a simultaneous and unanimous decision for Flint and Jackson. "While it wasn't swift water conditions, the water was rapidly rising, bringing sewage and other debris," Jackson said.
The SUV was turning in the water "about to play pinball with other submerged cars," said Flint.
Realizing their brief window of opportunity to act was closing quickly, they jumped onto the sidewalk into almost chest-deep water and dragged the vehicle up towards shallower water. Jackson lifted the woman through the vehicle's window and handed her to an individual atop a nearby wall and then he and Flint stabilized her SUV on the sidewalk.
(To see short video clip of the park rangers stabilizing the car, see attached link.)
Meanwhile, two more vehicles came crashing into the street-turned-lake, unaware of the flooding. Jackson said they "made visual and verbal contact with the drivers, assessed they were stable for the moment, and proceeded to check other vehicles underwater along the road to confirm no one was inside."
They then returned to the two vehicles where they helped a woman out of the rear of her SUV and an elderly man out of the car behind her.
Both park rangers were quick to credit their military training to take action as part of their ability and willingness to respond. They also credit their constant training as park rangers in "crisis management, water safety, and first aid. We've unfortunately dealt with situations where the outcome is sometimes tragic and visitors don't get to go home."
"We saw a problem and acted to solve it before it further deteriorated," Flint said. "We are thankful we were able to be of assistance."