When Glen Rolle got a call that his 13-year-old daughter was in need of rescue amid rising floodwaters in her mother’s home, he and a small team set out to the area.
He didn’t know it would turn into an operation that would save up to 200 lives, by his count.
A resident on Mayfield Park in the Freeport area, Rolle and his team struggled with borrowed tractors, jet skis and boats to move through the Category 5 winds and rushing waters to collect people off their rooftops in the Lady Lake and Casuarina Bridge areas.
“From Sunday night we started receiving phone calls that the water level was rising,” he said.
“My daughter was one of them, so by the time we got up there, we couldn’t do anything that night because it was dark and it was blowing hard.
“So, Monday morning, about 7 o’clock, we went up there.
“As a matter of fact, I almost got swept away in the car with the water. The same wave that pulled us in, pushed us back out.”
Rolle continued, “So we happened to get the car back on the bay; so when we started looking down there, when the rain subsided a little bit, you could see people on top of their roofs. They [were] raising their hands to you, but you can’t get to them, because at the time, the winds were gusting about 150 to 160 mph (miles per hour).
“…So, we left. We went back there. We waited. At times we had to go back in the car because the wind got too strong.
“We stayed out there as a matter of fact until 7:30 that night. That was Monday night.”
He continued, “We set up everything to say first thing Tuesday morning, we’ve got to get to these people. If we don’t get to them, that’s about it.
“By that time, most of their houses were [underwater]. The only thing you could still see was the roof.
“So first thing Tuesday morning, I was in the central of Freeport, Mayfield Park. We tried to get back up there. We couldn’t really get back up there. The water was like four feet in the road. So, we literally had to jump out the car, hop in another vehicle that could get on that side, and that’s how we got back up there.
“We dropped the two jet skis in the water. My two partners went out on the jet ski first, because one of them in the back there [who needed rescuing was a brother of one of the men and his brother’s wife].
“We happened to find the brother. The brother was about 20 feet in the air in a tree clinging for life. At that time he said he had lost his wife, but she was a good swimmer, so we were hoping that she would just get blown into land and we would have found her, but we never found her.
“Ninety-five percent of his body was skin free, not a piece of skin on his body from the water and banging up against the tree, because he was stuck against the tree for about 24 hours.
“So we brought him in. We secured him. He [was] talking to us and everything saying, ‘Please find my wife.’ So after that, I hopped on the jet ski and I went. You could imagine a five-month-old baby, a four-year-old boy, two women and a man trapped up in the roof for almost two days?
“Luckily they made it. In that area we found a few people. We basically got everyone out of that area. We only had about two lives lost in that area.”
He added, “From there we left and went by the Casuarina Bridge. The water at that time was still about seven to eight feet.
“…So, we started combing the area. We had a [fellow] there named Jason Albury. He was with me for the two days. He was there for the whole ordeal.
“And that’s the kind of people we need running whatever agencies we have. The way he set that up, it’s like as we hopped out on the skis, whoever went, he wrote your name down. When you came back in, he wrote your name down saying you came back in. Whatever people you brought in, he wrote their name down. So everything was documented, basically.”
Rolle said they began to see bodies floating and started to bring them in, but they were soon ordered to stop. He was near tears as he recounted the experience.
“One of my personal friends, his mother passed. So we brought her in,” he said.
“…After that, the police finally reached on the scene. So they told us not to bring any more dead bodies in.
“I said, ‘Come on, man. What you trying to tell me? Leave them?’
“So I went back out and on my way back in, two bodies went by me. That made my heart so troubled to know that I was not allowed to bring them back in.
“Their families will probably never see them because of the way the tide was taking them out to sea. They may never get closure to know that their family is really gone.
“We met people in they roofs, people on top of the roofs, people’s houses completely gone.
“A lady, we wondered why she had this cooler with her. So, we told her, ‘You don’t have to bring the cooler.’
“You know when she opened the cooler, her baby was in the cooler, alive. The baby made it.
“Man, I never seen nothing like that in all my days.”