A DoorDash delivery driver in New Jersey miraculously survived getting caught in a flash flood that sucked her into a three-quarter mile drainage tunnel at up to 40 miles per hour before she was dumped into a river and floated to safety.
Nathalia Bruno, 24, was out making a food delivery on Monday night in Passaic amid torrential rains when she drove her Toyota Prius into a trench of water accumulated on the road.
Bruno frantically dialed 911 before forcing the door open and diving into the water that pulled her under the vehicle and knocked her phone out of her hand.
She managed to fight her way to the surface by grabbing onto the steering wheel before she was suddenly dragged down into a storm drain.
Bruno was then carried down the roughly 4,000-foot culvert at a rate of 30 to 40 miles per hour, authorities said, as she gasped for air and made repeated unsuccessful attempts to grab the walls of the concrete tunnel.
She was eventually shot out of the culvert and dumped in the Passaic River, where she floated on her back for about 10 minutes before climbing to safety.
Bruno recounted the horrifying ordeal in an interview with the New York Times on Thursday, describing how she was certain she wouldn’t make it out of the tunnel alive.
‘I thought: “I’m going to die here, I don’t want to keep trying,”‘ Bruno said. ‘But then I saw a flash of light. I thought: “I hope it’s not God.”‘
Nathalia Bruno, a 24-year-old DoorDash delivery driver in New Jersey, miraculously survived getting caught in a flash flood that sucked her into a storm drain at up to 40 miles per hour before she was dumped into a river and floated to safety
Bruno was making a delivery during a storm on Monday night when she drove her Toyota Prius into a deep patch of water that had accumulated on a road in Passaic (pictured)
Bruno escaped from the car before water pulled them both into a wide storm drain (pictured)
Authorities are seen pulling Bruno’s mangled car from the storm drain
Bruno, a Brazil native who’s been living in the US for about two years, said her night began with a typical delivery run for DoorDash, where she started working a few weeks ago.
She retrieved an order from a Chipotle location in Nutley before driving to Clifton for the drop-off as a storm began dumping two to three inches of rain and large hail stones in the area.
She texted a selfie to her boyfriend in Brazil to tell him that she was nearing the end of her shift – later fearing that it would be the last message she ever sent.
Rain battered her windshield and made it nearly impossible to see as she turned a corner in Passiac and drove into a puddle that turned out to be several feet deep from a flash flood.
The car rapidly filled with water and began to float toward the culvert opening as she scrambled out.
‘I tried to grab the car, but I couldn’t, I remember trying to grab the wheel but I couldn’t,’ Bruno told ABC7.
Witnesses who watched her car drive into the flood said it happened so quickly that there was no way to stop it and her from getting dragged into the culvert.
But Bruno said those first few moments went a lot more slowly for her.
‘For me it was five minutes, all dark, trying to breathe, trying to put my feet on the ground, to pull me and get me some air,’ she said.
Witnesses captured blurry video of Bruno’s car submerged in the flash flood (pictured). They said it happened so quickly that they were unable to grab her before she went into the culvert
Bruno said the first few moments after her car got stuck felt much longer than it was. ‘For me it was five minutes, all dark, trying to breathe, trying to put my feet on the ground, to pull me and get me some air,’ she told ABC7
Once inside the culvert, Bruno’s car got lodged against a support beam while the water – which reaches speeds of up to 40 miles per hour during heavy rainfall – carried her deeper and deeper under the city.
Bruno said she was repeatedly pulled under the water and feared the worst as she isn’t a very strong swimmer.
Authorities later said that her small stature – standing at about four feet, eight inches – likely helped her avoid debris inside the culvert, which narrows to about five by six feet toward the end.
‘I was waiting for the minute that I would hit my head on something, my body would separate, and I would be dead and my mom and boyfriend would realize that she died, she just talked to me and she’s gone,’ Bruno told the Times.
She finally felt a glimmer of hope when the light emerged at the end of the tunnel that feeds into the river, but her journey wasn’t yet over.
Bruno said she floated on her back for about 10 minutes while trying to catch her breath before she swam to shore.
‘I tried to walk, and it was like I was drunk,’ she said of the moment she began climbing up the river bank in Rutherford.
A Rutherford resident spotted Bruno when she emerged from the river and called 911.
By the time first responders arrived the flash flood had already receded, Passaic Fire Chief Patrick Trentacost Sr told the Times.
Bruno was taken by ambulance to St Mary’s General Hospital, where doctors were shocked to discover that she’d come out of the river with only a scratch and some pain in her ear and knee.
Her 2005 Prius, however, was not so lucky after it got stuck inside the tunnel.
Authorities were filmed digging the mangled vehicle out of a storm drain on Tuesday.
‘The car is totally destroyed,’ Trentacost said.
‘It makes you wonder how she maneuvered through this pressure and water.’
The fire chief said the incident was ‘a first for me’, adding: ‘Usually people don’t come out of those situations.’
Authorities were filmed digging Bruno’s mangled car out of the drainage pipe after the storm passed. ‘The car is totally destroyed,’ Passaic Fire Chief Patrick Trentacost Sr said
A hole is seen in the road where authorities retrieved Bruno’s car
Passaic Mayor Hector Lora said that the city has done work to temper flooding in the past, noting that the intensity of Monday’s storm was nearly impossible to prepare for.
‘I don’t think I’ve seen anything like this since Hurricane Irene,’ he said.
DoorDash issued a statement expressing condolences over Bruno’s ‘frightening event’ and offered her ‘financial assistance as well as occupational accident insurance to cover expenses’.
Bruno is recovering well at home but says she has no plans to get behind the wheel anytime soon.
She said she continues to have flashbacks from the experience and said it’s ‘unbelievable I’m alive’.