Francisco Cornejo and his wife were in their car Thursday night when the water rushed up around them.
Cornejo kicked his car door open to escape and waded around the car to free his wife.
“If we stayed in there, we would’ve died,” he said a day later.
Cornejo was out celebrating his 37th birthday at Tim’s Rivershore Restaurant and Crabhouse in Dumfries when they left amid a flash flood. They thought they could make it home safe.
But “by the time I opened the door, the water was like up here,” Cornejo said, raising his hand to his neck.
Prince William County Fire & Rescue crews helped save others who were trapped, Tim Bauckman, the owner of the restaurant, said.
“Our hostess, she was leaving and got her car stuck in the waters and had to climb up on the roof. So she was there for about an hour. They did a boat rescue on her,” he said.
The flood was unique because the water wasn’t coming from the nearby Potomac River; it rushed down a hill, witnesses said. On Friday, mud that washed over gravel and railroad tracks could be seen. Water near the tracks was about waist-deep, restaurant employees said.
Employee Hannah Anderson bunkered down in the restaurant and waited out the storm with a few dozen others.
“This was the first time in my life that I was actually terrified of the water. You don’t know what’s going to happen. It happened so fast,” she said.
A flash flood warning was in effect for the area. Rescue crews say to never try driving through flood water. Turn around; don’t drown.