A nurse has been reunited with a TV reporter she hailed as her “knight in shining armour” after he carried her to safety on his back when she became trapped in floodwaters as Hurricane Ian hammered Florida.
Tonya McCullough had been on her way to work at night in Orlando during the violent storm when she unwittingly became stranded on a flooded road and water started filling up inside her car.
Fortunately, she was spotted by journalist Tony Atkins, who works for an NBC affiliate channel and had been covering the impact of the devastating hurricane, and he went to her aid.
She climbed out the window of her vehicle and onto the back of her waiting rescuer, who took her to the sanctuary through the waist-high torrent.
Recalling her ordeal, Ms McCullough said: “It was dark and it was raining and gloomy and you have no idea how deep that was.
“Then I realised, I can’t drive through this. And when I tried to back up, the waves and water helped usher me forward into the water and as I’m sitting in it the water is filling up inside the car.”
Mr Atkins said: “I had been there all morning and I just and an idea it was safe. I didn’t see power lines, I didn’t see animals, I also didn’t see anyone else, so that’s why I jumped into it.”
He and Ms McCullough have now met again in a tearful reunion, where the grandmother hugged him and said: “He was there for me when I needed him.
“He’s my knight in shining armour. He was there to rescue me.”
There was also laughter as Mr Atkins recalled how she had handed him her handbag to carry during the perilous rescue.
He said: “I was perplexed when you handed me the purse. I was like ‘Oh, OK, sure, I’ll take the purse’.”
There was also gratitude from Ms McCullough’s son, Stephon, who is serving in the US air force.
Speaking via video phone, he said: “We need to get you a medal or something. I’m actually looking into that with my commander to say thank you.”
Ms McCullough told her rescuer: “Continue to be there and be helpful because you never know when someone like me will need that. And I really do appreciate that. I’m so thankful.”
Responding, Mr Atkins joked: “I’ll be here for Thanksgiving.”
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The heart-warming tale of courage came as the remnants of Hurricane Ian drifted through Virginia and storm-hit residents of Florida and the Carolinas faced a clear-up and reconstruction expected to cost tens of billions of pounds.
The number of dead was also expected to rise as floodwaters receded and search teams reach areas previously cut off.
At least 50 storm-related deaths have been confirmed since Ian made landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast with catastrophic force on Wednesday, bringing torrential rain and winds of 150mph.
US President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden will travel to see the devastation in Florida first-hand on Wednesday, the White House has said.
Meanwhile, Cuba is restoring power after Ian knocked out electricity to the whole island and flattened homes and ravaged agricultural fields.
The storm has since reduced to an ever-weakening post-tropical cyclone.