Jerry Pifer tried to paddle his canoe on the flooded Cheat River and almost drowned when the river pitched him overboard. Then he nearly froze while he was stranded in a tree for four hours.
“I am tired, but other than that, I’m all right,” Pifer said Saturday from Davis Memorial Hospital, where he was being treated for frostbite.
Pifer, 27, was heading home Friday to check on his belongings after the river began receding.
The current slammed his canoe into a building and threw him into the water, then kept him from swimming to safety in a neighbor’s barn.
“My muscles and arms locked up on me, so I had to get out there,” Pifer said.
He climbed into a tree and yelled to friends, who called the fire department for help. Meanwhile, his clothes were soaking wet and the temperature was falling into the 20s.
The Parsons Fire Department sent a boat, but its propeller snagged on a fence, stranding three would-be rescuers, said state police Trooper R.L. Stump.
A rescue squad from nearby Elkins eventually saved the firefighters and Pifer.
Pifer said he didn’t remember the rescue.
“I was told I fell out of the tree right when they got there,” Pifer said. “I don’t think I’ll be doing that again.”
His body temperature was 82 degrees when he reached the hospital, Stump said.
Pifer said he was thinking about moving to higher ground.
“I don’t want to live that close to the river. You can’t tell what it’s going to do. It’s just unpredictable,” he said. “I spend a lot of time on the river, I thought I could handle it.”