“There was one in a million chance of this happening.”
That’s how North Carolina resident and drone photographer Quavas Hart described the weekend’s unusual sequence of events that led him to help rescue Chris Williams, a man trapped in his flooded home after Hurricane Matthew.
Hart became aware of the emergency only because Chris’ brother, who lives in Texas, noticed a photograph that Hart had tweeted.
Hart knew neither man before this weekend.
It all began Saturday evening, after Hurricane Matthew made landfall.
At 10 p.m. Saturday, Chris Williams woke to the sharp crack of his kitchen door flying open.
“He thought his door had been kicked in,” his twin brother Craig told The Washington Post.
(Mobile users, see the video here: http://wapo.st/2eaLKVu)
Chris, who lives in Hope Mills, N.C., had called his brother Craig, who lives in Austin, earlier that evening. Although Matthew had made landfall and caused minor flooding in Hope Mills, Chris’s property didn’t seem to be in too much danger.
“The water came up to his porch, and kept going down. He didn’t think much of it,” Craig said. “He went to bed and ... thought he was completely fine.”
So when Chris woke, he ran downstairs prepared to greet an intruder. After serving in Afghanistan, the Navy veteran is no stranger to enemy combatants. But what he saw stopped him in his tracks.
Water rushed through the door as if someone had opened a fire hydrant.
“He couldn’t even close the door,” Craig said. “It must have been like trying to close the door on an explosion.”
The water forced the refrigerator to fall over, onto Chris. He wasn’t injured but grew disoriented. It became clear he needed to get away from the floodwater filling his house.
Chris grabbed his dog, Lana, and ran upstairs to the second floor, which is a sort of converted attic. Stored there were Mountain House freeze-dried foods. He figured he could wait for rescue.
Hours later, no rescue had come, and water had filled most of his house.
“It was so deep,” Chris told WFMY, “that, like, if I went downstairs to the bottom of the floor, I probably would have been like five feet underwater.”
It even filled the staircase, and Lana, a dog who cannot swim, had already fallen in once, forcing Chris to rescue the dog.
He needed to get out, but there was no phone service. The only one who knew Chris was in the house was Craig, and he was more than 1,300 miles away.
They managed to speak via Facebook messenger, which utilizes data rather than cell service, but neither could reach 911.
Craig tweeted, “Stuck in #HopeMills or other areas due to flooding from #HurricaneMatthew landlines and cellular calls may not work — try voip fb messenger”
Craig said that Chris “tried to call 911 20 or 30 times” but the calls weren’t going through.
When they finally did reach emergency services, they were told that no rescue was possible yet.
“Chris doesn’t get concerned very often,” Craig said, but after a few hours of being trapped upstairs in his house, Chris was beginning to worry. The area’s dams were reported to be critical, and he didn’t know what to do if they burst.
“He used to swim every day,” Craig said, but after his service, “it’s sometimes a struggle for him to get up.”
As the sun rose Sunday morning, another veteran of the war in Afghanistan, one who didn’t know Chris or Craig, was waking in Fayetteville, N.C.
After returning home from his military service, Quavas Hart decided to learn drone videography and photography.
Hart saw the flooding on the news Sunday morning and, as he told The Washington Post, “I figured I’d get some aerial footage.”
He flew his drone all around, including over Hope Mills, taking pictures of the damage and the standing water, all of which he posted to Twitter and Instagram using the hashtags (hash)HopeMills and (hash)HurricaneMatthew.
Meanwhile, back in Texas, Craig was nervously scrolling through tweets labeled with #HopeMills, looking at the hurricane that, at this point, had kept his brother trapped for 14 hours. When he saw the a picture on Twitter, he sent it to his brother to cheer him up.
“At least it isn’t this bad,” he told Chris.
Chris thought his twin was playing some sick, cruel trick on him. After all, the house on the far right in the photo was precisely where Chris was trapped.
So he told Craig.
“Look at the blue shutters and the light pole,” Chris said.
Realizing that someone had just taken a photo of his brother’s house, Craig reached out to Hart via Twitter.
“I couldn’t believe this guy was way in Texas, and he just happened to see his brother’s house on the Internet,” Hart said.
To make sure he wasn’t being trolled, Hart messaged Chris and asked him to wave out of his window when the drone passed by again. Sure enough, there was Chris, waving out of the upstairs window.
Hart owned a boat and began prepping it for deployment when he noticed a FEMA boat on the nearby river. He got the crew’s attention by flying the drone over their small motorboat and waving from the shore.
“I see this FEMA boat, distract them with a drone, and get them over,” Hart said. “I told them, ‘There’s a guy in this house. Follow the drone.’ ”
And using his drone, Hart led the FEMA motorboat right to Chris’s home.
Finally, Chris was safe.
As Craig wrote on the GoFundMe page for his brother, “He later told me he didn’t realize how being trapped had affected him until he reached shore and felt that relief I guess only soldiers feel when they get back from a mission with all their friends alive.”
Craig summed up the experience more succinctly in a phone interview with The Washington Post.
“It was insane.”