SWEPT AWAY
Reader's Digest US|February 2022
For the parents of the bride, fear replaces happiness as a raging river scoops up their car on the way to the wedding
Simon Hemelryk

Marjon van Eijk was excited. The 57-year-old from the Netherlands had just landed on the island of Mallorca with her family for the wedding of her daughter Iris van Eijk. It was a day she’d dreamed about.

The intimate ceremony was taking place the next day, October 10, 2018. Twenty-one guests were planning to gather at a stunning villa in the hills near the picturesque town of Sant Llorenç des Cardassar, Spain, just under an hour’s drive from the airport.

“I can’t wait for the barbecue tonight, never mind the wedding,” Marjon told her mother, Bets Kasiu.

Kasiu was a sharp, warm-hearted 84-year-old, but she wasn’t in the best of health. A year earlier, she had had emergency surgery on a perforated intestine and now wore a colostomy bag. Hip problems meant she had to walk with crutches. But she was thrilled to be attending her granddaughter’s wedding in such a beautiful setting. She also felt comforted by the fact that the family had brought along a nurse, Marjon Theunissen, to help her.

The three women and van Eijk’s husband, Pieterjan van Eijk, walked out of the airport at around 6 p.m. and into a rental car. Iris and her fiancé, Coen Vlothuizen, were waiting at the property, thrilled to share such a magical event with the ones they loved.

On the road to Sant Llorenç, the family gazed at Mallorca’s rugged countryside, with its rolling, rocky slopes peppered by wispy grasses and low green trees. As they crossed the hilly landscape, the sun had gone down and rain was falling heavily. But that didn’t detract from the beauty of the island, off Spain’s eastern coast. They chatted happily. Pieterjan, a quiet historian, kept them amused with witty observations from the driver’s seat.

THE CAR LURCHED THROUGH THE WATER, ITS ROOF SCRAPING THE UNDERSIDE OF BRIDGES.

They had no inkling that the rainfall—more than nine inches would fall that day—had already reached dangerous levels.

As they drove beyond the town of Sant Llorenç and up the winding road about half a mile into the hills, the rain came down harder and the sky grew darker. They were approaching a bridge over what was normally a small stream when, without warning, a wave of dirty, fast-moving water washed over the top of it. Within seconds, the little white car went sliding with her mother’s nurse, she knew they all had to get out quickly before the waters rose too high in the car and they drowned.

Marjon was small but deceptively strong. Forcing the back door open, she jumped into the chest-high water. Theunissen, the nurse, followed. Marjon grabbed the front door handle and tried to open the door to reach Pieterjan and Kasiu in the front seat, but the water into the now-raging river and surged down the hillside.

It all happened so quickly that the people inside the car were too shocked to scream. As the car lurched and spun through the water, its roof scraping the underside of a couple of bridges, they clutched the seats and doors in numb disbelief.

The flood carried the car back through Sant Llorenç, which was now engulfed by several feet of water. On and on the vehicle went, a few hundred yards south of the town where, finally, it caught on a submerged object in the middle of the torrent.

Marjon, the mother of the bride, felt water swilling round her feet and looked down. Muddy brown floodwater was pouring into the car and rising quickly. Sitting in the backseat pressure on the door was too much.

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