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A man saves a stranger's life during a historic flash flood

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's Friday - don't really need to say any more than that. No, we should go on. It's time for StoryCorps, which we hear on Fridays. Today, we remember a flash flood that put parts of Douglasville, Ga., underwater in 2009. Zack Stephney was working at a trucking company overlooking the rising waters, and he came to StoryCorps with his friend Melissa Brooks to reflect.

ZACK STEPHNEY: We were seeing refrigerators go by, sofas float by. And when I first saw the car, I initially kind of laughed about it for a minute because, you know, we were like, oh, wow, somebody's car got washed from their driveway, and they don't even know it, until one of the guys said, hey, somebody's in that car. And it was like my I zoomed in to you, and I saw the fear in your eyes.

MELISSA BROOKS: Yeah. You know, I was going to meet my boss, and I was in a hurry. I didn't realize what the situation was. I was just driving along until I looked over to the side of me and I saw the river. Then I knew I was in trouble.

STEPHNEY: And I knew I had a matter of seconds to try to rescue you. So I thought about it then. If I can find that spool of rope, there would be enough for me to tie myself to it and then just swim out to you and have the guys pull me back. I was strapping myself up, and by that time, the car had sunk. At that point, I thought about my dad. He was a shop foreman right beside Chattahoochee River. One time, he kept hearing somebody yelling help. And as he went to go get this person, the guy was panicking. He was grabbing onto my dad, onto his shoulders and hand, preventing him to swim. And they both ended up going down. Both end up drowning in the river. I was 8 years old. So I was just saying to myself, I'm going to go get this lady. I'm going to make sure I got this water today because my dad left out here the same way. And I have three kids. I wasn't going to let that happen. So I just really stayed focused. Somebody hollered and say, she's out of the car, and she was hanging onto a tree.

BROOKS: Yeah, I was holding on to this flimsy little tree.

STEPHNEY: Yes.

BROOKS: And the branches were breaking off. I knew that if this tree broke, that I was gone.

STEPHNEY: I was terrified to see you just drown. So what I end up doing is swimming right into the current and just pulling my way up to you.

BROOKS: I remember your voice. It was crisp and clear, just like you were standing beside of me. You kept telling me they were going to get me, that it was going to be OK. Hold on. Hold on. And you saved my life.

STEPHNEY: The next day, I looked out the window. I could see the bird go by. And I'm just glad, you know, it turned out like this. I'm just glad for both of us to live another day - both of us. Yes.

BROOKS: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Zack Stephney and Melissa Brooks in Atlanta. Their StoryCorps interview is archived at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jo Corona