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USF Professor Saves Family From Flooding Home

by Ed Carpenter, Office of Marketing Communications

USF’s Gretchen Coffman waded into two feet of rushing water to rescue a bewildered family from their rapidly flooding home just outside Anaheim. The family was enjoying their Sunday after Thanksgiving when a water main burst in a reservoir behind their home. From inside, waist-high water could be seen building up against the home’s sliding glass door and back patio floor-to-ceiling windows and was beginning to seeping inside.

Paralyzed with panic

“It was a pretty crazy situation,” said Coffman, assistant professor of environmental science, who had been spending the holiday weekend at her sister-in-law’s house next door. She said her experience wading through moving water as a wetland restoration expert and as an open ocean swimmer in the San Francisco Bay came in handy.

“When I entered the house, they were just standing there paralyzed with panic,” said Coffman, who told them to gather their computers and purses and prepare to evacuate. She led the family on a search of the house for their infant, dog, and pet bird and loaded them into the family van. She then guided them down the driveway, which was rushing like a waterfall. Coffman went back for the elderly grandmother, who used a walker, and escorted her to the front door of the home, before firefighters arrived.

Her heroics were featured on CBS Los Angeles’s 5 o’clock news. “I never had a second thought about it. I’m around water all the time, so I went right in,” Coffman said. “It really made me feel grateful I could help them.”

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