Nov. 12, 2003 Were it not for the courage of three University of the Virgin Islands security guards, the story of one of their colleagues stuck in her vehicle by a flash flood late Monday night might have had a different and perhaps tragic ending.
Holly Gayadeen was on her way to work the midnight shift at the university's St. Croix campus when she found herself in a stalled car with water rising rapidly around her, afraid to leave the vehicle for fear of being swept away by the flood.
It was dark on the road she found herself trapped on Route 669, which runs from Melvin Evans Highway to Patrick Sweeney Police Headquarters and Centerline Road. As Gayadeen approached the flooded area, she said she noticed a "glistening" of what she thought was the road surface. Other than that, she said, the road appeared normal. "I hadn't realized it was that deep," Gayadeen said.
She used her cell phone to call her boss, Ralph Cook, chief of security at the school.
Cook asked Samuel Joseph, another UVI employee, to keep Gayadeen talking on the phone while he and Michael Javois went to help their stranded co-worker, who, Cook said, sounded very frightened and was crying for help.
In the meantime, Celestine Cuffy, another UVI security guard, heard Joseph on the phone with Gayadeen, and said he realized the situation was more serious than Gayadeen's colleagues first thought. Cuffy jumped into his personal vehicle and raced to Gayadeen's rescue, passing Cook and Javois on the way.
But when he arrived at the scene, Cuffy was also caught in the high waters, which caused his Chevy S-10 pickup to stall. Gayadeen said Wednesday she saw Cuffy "drive as far as he could into the water before his vehicle cut out."
Cuffy jumped out of his drowned vehicle and made his way through the waist-high rushing water to Gayadeen. He pulled on her car door and told her to push. The door opened, and Cuffy was able to pull Gayadeen out of the car as the water rushed in. By the time he reached her car the water was chest-high, Cuffy said. On the outside of the car the water was up to the windshield, he said.
"She grabbed my neck," Cuffy said, "and we fought our way through " to higher ground.
When Cook and Javois got there a few minutes later, Cook said, "The same thing happened to us." Their Chevy Blazer stalled and water started to flow into the vehicle. Javois had to climb out through the window, Cook said. Once outside, the two found themselves in "water up to our chests, pushing us."
By that time Cuffy had gotten Gayadeen to a safe spot. He turned and went back into the gushing water, formed a chain with Cook and Javois and pulled them to safety, too.
Cook said he had no idea when the call came from Gayadeen how serious the situation was. "When I reached her, I was shocked," he said, adding that Gayadeen's cell phone very likely saved her life. "It was terrible … scary," he said. "Good thing Miss Gayadeen had a cell phone, or she would have stayed there and perished."
Gayadeen said she is not a swimmer, which was in part why she was reluctant to leave her vehicle. Cuffy, however, is a swimmer. It wasn't until the ordeal was over, he said, that he considered the dangers. At the time, he said, "I was only interested in saving her. After, I realized it was really dangerous."
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