BY MELANIE BUCK –
On Thursday, May 1, 2014, torrential rains swept through Polk County causing major flooding in several areas and wreaking havoc on homes, businesses, and roadways affecting citizens countywide.
About 6:30 that evening calls began coming in for assistance. Some were trapped in their homes, some in their vehicles. Rescuers were kept busy deep into the night. Each rescue has it’s own story however, there is one that stood above the rest.
Cherie Boehler, a 16-year old Mena High School student, shared her chilling story of self-rescue with The Pulse so that maybe someone else won’t make the same mistake.
On that night, Boehler was on her way home from Zumba class. She had heard the flood warnings and she knew from the weather in town that her county road near Shady Grove would have some standing water but had no expectation about the events that would unfold.
As she approached the road to home she could see the road sign was halfway covered in water so she decided to take the long way around instead of turning back for town, a choice she would later regret. “Everything seemed okay until I got to the first low water cement bridge, I went slow and I was able to make it across. But when I made it to the second one I had to cross to get to my house, it was a different story. It was like the Mississippi River,” stated Boehler. As she attempted to cross the second bridge she realized it was not safe so she attempted to back up. “I started backing up very slowly, and all of a sudden I felt the left side drivers tire and side shift down and I knew right then, it was either sink or swim.”
With only seconds to determine her plan of action, to stay in the car or to jump, she decided to exit the vehicle. Upon opening the door, the rush of the water held her against the car and continuously slammed her into the side, at times, holding her underwater before allowing her to catch a breath. “This happened 3 or 4 times then I felt the strength in my arms start to weaken, and I thought to myself that this was it. This was my last time. I’m not even going to make it to my 17th birthday next Friday,” Boehler recalls.
As she held on to the car already exhausted and praying, she began to feel debris hit her legs and begin to tangle around her and under the car and she let go.
As she was swept down the ditch of County Road 47 the rapid current sent her into a culvert and by chance, spit her out the other side. It was getting dark and her vision was impaired due to losing her contacts in the struggle. Disoriented, she let the water carry her about 100 yards further before she managed to grab a tree. Boehler remembers, “I held on for dear life while I got myself, and my emotions, together.”
Gathering her strength, she got to her feet and headed for better ground. She worked her way around bushes and briars and began to run. After about a mile she found a house. Inside was a nice older couple who welcomed her in and let her call her grandfather.
“I was so terrified,” said Boehler as she relived the terror of that night. “It didn’t even settle in, the pain, mental images, and horror of it all, until I layed down to try to get some rest,” says Boehler. The images have replayed in her mind day and night causing nightmares however, she wants to turn her experience into a learning lesson not only for herself but others as well.
When speaking of what advice she would give others, Boehler had this to say,
“If there is one thing I’ve learned from this traumatic experience it’s this: do not take water, floods, or any kind of disaster as a joke. I wasn’t scared of water because I could swim so well. When our phones told us to stay home because of flash flooding, I ignored it.”
Boehler believes that faith and God’s love saw her through this traumatic event. “I give it all to my amazing and powerful God, because if it wasn’t for His mighty hand on me, I wouldn’t have lived to see another day. It’s left me with some bad pain and bad scratches and deep contusions. But it could’ve been so much worse.”