Even when she was being carried away by a torrent of floodwaters, Laura Hunter never thought she was going to die.
"I don't think I once thought, 'Oh shoot, this is the end.' I was just like, 'OK, how am I going to get out of this?' Thank God for that tree that I was swiftly approaching," Hunter said Monday, three days after a flash flood tore through Manitou Springs.
Hunter, 49, who suffered a black eye, a broken foot and a hairline fracture in her left leg, recounted her harrowing tale of survival before a throng of reporters from a wheelchair in a room at Penrose Hospital. She choked up when talking about losing her rental cottage and two beloved cats, Sally and Wiggles. But Hunter also joked at times and promised to take advantage of getting another chance at life.
"My long-term goals are just to be really grateful for my life, and I want to form really, really, really healthy relationships. That's the most important thing to me now," she said.
"Everything I lost, you know, that can all be replaced. But at this point in my life, I'm going to treasure a lot of friends and a lot of support and a lot of laughs and having a good time."
Hunter said she was sitting in her small cottage on Canon Avenue, at the mouth of Williams Canyon, when water poured into her living room window.
"I had no time to gather anything. Not my pets or anything," she said.
Hunter said she rushed out the front door and planned to cross the street to get to higher ground when she was swept off her feet.
"I got washed away, underwater and flailing," she said.
Hunter managed to get up and grab hold of a tree.
"I straddled that tree, pulled myself out, flung myself onto the ridge, onto the embankment and then proceeded to crawl up to higher ground," she said.
Hunter said she knew her leg was injured, but she didn't feel any pain because of "all the adrenaline" and the water was "really, really cold."
"Luckily, blessedly, even after traversing that terrain, it stayed in alignment, so I won't need surgery on it or anything," she said.
Hunter, who served in the Army from 1986 to 1988 and was stationed in Germany, said she is strong and a good swimmer. She said the experience was like riding a violent wave in the ocean.
"I used to body surf. I love to body surf, so it's like when you're catching a wave but not the good kind of wave. You're catching the kind of wave that goes up like that," she said, raising her arm in the air for emphasis, "and it slams you down and then you're stuck under there for a long time and you're hoping that you're going to pop up soon so you can breathe. That's how it was."
Hunter, who had lived in the cottage eight years, said she never imagined her home would be swept away despite warnings from visitors. She said she thought "the worst of it may be over" because she believed the water from the previous floods had carried all the debris from the Waldo Canyon burn scar down or stayed inside the nearby culvert.
"This time, it just inundated the whole area up there and the water went wherever the water wanted to go," she said.
"When people say and warn you about a flood, don't just go, 'Aw, you're silly.' Definitely take them seriously."
Hunter said she doesn't know if she'll move back to Manitou or what the future holds.
"This is a clean slate, so I'm going to go back to California and hug my mom and my brother and then we'll just go from there," she said.
Hunter didn't rule out finding a husband through her story of survival.
"I've never been married and I want to get married and I'm single, so I'll just let everybody know that," she said, generating laughter.
Contact Daniel J. Chac? 476-1623.