MOAPA — Loren and Margie Miller were just starting their cross-country trip when a devastating flash flood sent their vacation plans into a waterlogged tailspin.
On Monday, the Fresno, Calif., couple were just hours into their days-long trek to see their son in Kentucky and then move on to Florida. They planned to play a round of golf on the way in St. George, Utah.
But what started as a coffee break turned into a harrowing tale and dramatic rescue in the deluge that wrecked homes and ripped out chunks of Interstate 15 as it tore across Southern Nevada.
The rain had picked up as they passed through Las Vegas. The Millers, who have been married for 46 years, pulled off at the Glendale exit, 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas, to grab some coffee.
But before they could even get off the freeway, a raging river of floodwater swamped their Toyota Sienna minivan. Within seconds, the van was adrift, sliding and spinning at the mercy of Mother Nature.
The flash food swept them from the exit ramp and pushed them under the I-15 overpass as their minivan filled with muddy water and debris. Margie, sitting on the passenger side of the van, opened her door before the water could pin it shut.
But the move nearly proved deadly.
Loren grabbed his wife’s hands, trying to keep her from plunging into the floodwaters. But the force was too much, and she slipped from his grasp.
Margie struggled to keep her head above the rushing water as it swept her 100 yards. Gasping for air, she saw a Las Vegas police officer pop into view.
The Metro officer urged her to swim toward him — and seconds later, he plucked her from the murky, silty water.
“I just kept trying to live,” Margie said Tuesday, standing outside her room at the Glendale Motel.
While Margie was being pulled to safety, her husband, in a panic, had climbed on top of their van under the overpass. Water was nearly touching his toes when he heard other voices calling him.
Four construction workers who had seen the van drift from the highway tossed him a rope that he he tied around his arms — and then he jumped. The crew pulled him out of the water and onto the nearby embankment.
“I feel dumb, in a way, to get caught in it,” Loren said as he laid out clothes, blankets and bags to dry outside his motel room. “It happened so fast.”
He said he barely slept Monday night as images of his wife slipping from his grip haunted him.
“I thought I was never going to see her again,” Loren said.
What’s left of the Miller’s minivan sits in its muddy grave along I-15, a few hundred yards from where the nightmare happened. They had only had the van for six weeks. Now it’s totalled and filled with 2 feet of mud in spots.
Now, with no van or cellphones, the Millers are planning on making their way back home to Fresno rather than continuing their vacation. They’re just not sure how they’ll get there: They may rent a car or have their van towed.
“We lost a lot of stuff but still have life,” Loren said. “I’ve learned a tremendous amount of respect for rain.”
The Millers weren’t the only ones to lose property in Monday’s torrential rains, which dumped up to 4 inches in some parts of Clark County. The system was pushed north by remnants of Hurricane Norbert, which also flooded Phoenix and other parts of Arizona. A nearly 20-mile stretch of I-15 in northeast Clark County, including the spot where the Millers were swept away, is closed after sections of the freeway caved in.
But now the Millers take new perspectives on life.
“It’s taken all my wishes for adventure away,” Margie said.
And Loren is thinking about material things.
Just before they started their trip, they had been arguing about a soap dish that Loren wanted to get rid of. But Margie wanted to hang on to it.
“That soap dish really wasn’t a big issue, was it?” he said.
The flood reminded them there are more important things to hang on to.
Contact reporter Colton Lochhead at email@example.com or 702-383-4638. Find him on Twitter: @ColtonLochhead.