Couple swims to safety to escape Rodanthe house fire

Posted August 28, 2011 11:55 p.m. EDT
Updated September 8, 2011 3:01 p.m. EDT

— In the midst of driving rain and pounding wind at the height of Hurricane Irene on the Outer Banks, a Rodanthe couple watched helplessly as their dream home went up in flames. Fire crews couldn't get to the blaze because of severe flooding, and Celia Meekins said she and her husband had to slosh through neck-deep water to get to safety.

Meekins said she and her husband stayed in their 6,000-square foot home to ride out Irene, but around 8:30 p.m. Saturday, she saw flames encircling the home.

"We just ran out of the house, down three flights of steps, as quickly as we could run," Meekins said.

Once outside, she said whipping winds and deep, rushing water made it difficult to stay upright.

"The wind was blowing so hard and we were kind of holding on to each other. I held on to my husband's hand so I wouldn't go under, but (with) the wind, my feet weren't touching the pavement, I can tell you that," she said.

Suddenly, in the darkness, she felt the hands of her neighbors, who had braved the storm to bring the couple life jackets.

"We had friends staying next door that saved our lives," she said.

They swam to a neighboring development, frightened, but trying to stay calm, Meekins said.

"I was praying. I said, 'Oh God, please spare our lives, please spare our lives,' and about that time, we saw a light," she said.

People inside a home had spotted them and waved flashlights and white shirts to signal they were welcome to take shelter there.

They were staying with neighbors Sunday night.

Firefighters, who couldn't get to the scene until Sunday afternoon, believe the hurricane force winds thrashed electrical wires, sparking the blaze.

They won't be able to confirm the cause of the fire for at least a week, said Dare County Fire Marshall Doug Remaley.

Fire also destroyed a home in New Bern, in Craven County, on the edge of the Neuse River.