A champion off-road race car driver helped rescue people stranded in surging floodwaters wrought by the first in a series of El Niño-driven storms pummeling the Pacific Coast.
Elias Hanna, a Baja 1000 champion several times over, rushed to the aid of drivers stranded in the waterlogged streets of San Diego's Kearny Mesa neighborhood on Tuesday. Water levels surged to 3 feet in a matter of minutes, trapping drivers on Balboa Avenue near Off Road Warehouse, where Hanna works.
"Everyone kept going through it so I thought, 'OK, let's try it; hold on!'" recalled driver Bree Wrinkler, whose car stalled in the rising floodwaters between Mercury and Convoy streets. "Halfway through, my car just died and I had to wait for somebody to come push it out."
Wrinkler said within minutes, the whole street was underwater.
Hanna, who is used to driving through difficult conditions and challenging terrain, got behind the wheel of one of Off Road Warehouse's four-wheel drive Jeeps to rescue stranded drivers. One by one, Hanna pushed stalled cars out of the dangerous flood waters.
"I saw people in danger. We might as well help them out, take them out of the way," Hanna told NBC 7.
The rescue mission drew a crowd of nearly 100 as people stepped outside of nearby businesses to watch Hanna and his co-workers and cheer them on.
"We have friends all over the street, so they were cheering for us hoping each vehicle would pull out," Hanna said. "We’ve never seen Balboa Avenue like we did today."
After a full day of rescuing drivers and passengers, Hanna offered some advice.
"If you see a big lagoon, if you don’t have a four-wheel drive vehicle just don’t go through it — or we come out and save you," he said.