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July 6, 2004
Americus-- There are countless stories we tell about the 1994 flood-- including tales of unlikely heroes.
For ten years, the Methodist Home for Children and Youth has been a safe place for abused teenage girls to stay. Ten years ago, it wasn't so secure.
Flood waters made the city of Americus into an island-- there was no way in or out. The Children's Home was much the same.
"The door you always come in? That door was blown off the hinges!" Former House Mother Kim Hayes tells a new generation of residents a tale of the night when she, another woman, and six teenage girls were trapped inside this very house.
Hayes says, "I mean it seemed like we were on a movie set and you know someone was whispering to us go here, here is your mark, here is your cue. It didn't seem like reality."
Now calm, ten years ago the Murphy Mill Dam broke upstream sending a torrent of water that smashed into the home.
"If we had gone to bed, some of us wouldn't have made it out."
That night, Kim and the other house mother stayed up until the early morning hours swapping stories. They didn't hear the water gathering outside, "I got up and when I did I stepped down on the carpet and the carpet was wet. And I looked at Cheryl and I said something is wrong."
Four feet of water surrounded the house. The weight of it sealed everyone in, "I remember walking through the house one more time and the water was calf deep. And I remember thinking we are running out of time. We have got to get out of this house."
"Judy Tott could not come to the home so she called me cause she knew I would go help them and I probably got to the home around one o'clock," says Dan Torbert.
When neighbor Dan Torbert got to the Children's Home, he saw a river of water surrounding the house. But, he attempted to enter anyway, "The first time I went in and fell down, that is when I went back to look for something, a rope, a piece of wire, I could hang on too."
When that didn't work, Dan had an idea. Kim Hayes says, "He got to the windows and he said here is what we are going to do, I want you to put one girl in the window at a time and I am going to take you across one at a time."
One by one, Dan carried each girl from the kitchen window to higher ground. Hayes says, "You could tell Dan was getting really tired. We had six girls and two staff and the cats and about the fourth trip he went under and fell and was kind of swept down a little bit and caught the house and was able to get back to us."
Kim Hayes, the other house mother and one child were still inside the kitchen when the doors and windows to the house gave way, "Cheryl and I jumped in the sinks and all of the sudden there was Dan and I just went through the window. I don't even remember going through the window. I just remember hitting that water and strangely thinking, I was safe."
Today, Kim Hayes is a married woman. She still works at the Methodist Home.
Dan Torbert lives in Americus. As for saving eight lives that night, Dan says, "Anybody would have done it that was physically able."
Survivor Kim Hayes has another opinion, "He will never take credit for what he did, he will never take credit for how remarkable a man he is. But, I love him. Every time I see him I have to wave or hug him or just something, because I wouldn't be here if it weren't for him."
The Children's Home still stands, thriving as a safe haven for young girls. Without Dan Torbert, this story would have had a much different ending.
Dan Torbert has been honored many times for his heroism, including a trip to the White House and receiving an international award from the Kiwanis Club.
Torbert says he is being mentioned in a book on the history of Sumter County for being the first person to receive an international award, beating other famous Sumter Countians-- President Jimmy Carter and Habitat for Humanity founder Millard Fuller.