Nathan Day was up early Thursday morning helping his son get ready for work when he received a message from a neighbor asking him to save her grandchildren from the rising floodwaters.
Day, a former coal miner who lives in Hindman, Knott County, said he was unaware of what was happening in the region until he received the message saying the children needed help getting out of their house.
“I didn’t know what they was talking about, then I went outside,” Day told CNN. “You heard a lot of people screaming and begging for anyone to help.”
That day, Eastern Kentucky saw flooding that officials have called unprecedented, with entire houses and bridges swept away and communities isolated because of flooded roads. At least 35 people have died in the flooding, and many who survived lost everything they had. Hundreds of people are still missing.
Day and his wife, Krystal, had no boat, so they waded through the water to help save the five children and two mothers who were stuck on the roof of their home.
“At 3 o’clock in the morning, I was in that water with my wife. I put a child under each arm and one around my neck and took them back to my house. The oldest child was holding a small dog,” Day said.
After Day and his wife rescued the children and the two women, he set his sights on rescuing his former high school English teacher, Ella Prater, and his second grade teacher, Irma Gayheart, who both lived nearby.
“I just kept pacing back and forth because I saw the water rising and I knew my two former teachers were probably trapped in their houses,” Day said. “It was heartbreaking.”
He then enlisted the help of three other neighbors to help check on his teachers, who both live alone, according to Day.
When they saw Prater, Day said they held her “by both side of her arms and never looked back. We said, ‘We have to go.’”
It took Gayheart a few minutes to answer the door, but when she did, she told him she was okay, but had been sitting on her kitchen counter top watching the water rise.
“I wasn’t going to leave her there because she’s a special lady to me. You could tell by looking at her face that she was drained,” Day said. “She spent the night on the kitchen counter top and the water was up by the counter top.”
With the help of his neighbors, Day was able to reunite both teachers with their families, who were waiting for any updates about their whereabouts.
“These are two of the most special women you’ll meet in your life, and when they show you love, they show you true love. They truly care about everyone that’s around them and that stuck with me my whole life,” Day said when explaining why he risked his life to rescue his teachers.
The ordeal has been emotionally draining, but he’s glad the children and former teachers are safe, Day told CNN.