ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — A woman who lost her sister and other members of her tight-knit family on the Dan River is remembering the tragedy nearly one year later. 

On June 16, 2022, it will be one-year since a deadly accident on the river left five people dead, four survivors and a heartbroken family.

Angelica Villano lost her pregnant sister Teresa Villano, 35, in the tubing tragedy when a group of nine went over the Duke Energy dam.

Four people survived after 11 hours in the water until someone heard their screams for help, and rescue crews arrived.

“You feel like when you wake up, they’re here, but then you realize no, they’re not,” she said. 

Villano holds on to the memories of her relatives. 

“I’d hope they’d be looking down on us knowing we love them and miss them and wish they were here,” Villano said. 

Now, during each holiday Villano remembers them.   

“It’s just hard. Birthdays passed, and they weren’t here,” she said. “Just never forget them.” 

Villano told FOX8 her family went back to the river to celebrate birthdays. They plan to visit again on the one-year anniversary of the tragedy.  

“It felt good to be there as a family. But at the same time, it’s sad because they’re not here,” Villano said. “All you think about is everybody that’s not here…and it really does hurt.” 

Madison Rockingham Rescue Squad Chief Rusty Gray was one of the crews on the search and recovery.  

“That’s a very tragic event that effected an entire family that probably could’ve been prevented with better planning and use of safety equipment,” he said.  

Gray wants everyone to recognize the hazards of the rushing water including increased water levels, rapid currents and debris under the surface. 

“This is not an amusement ride,” Gray said. “This is a wild, flowing, real river that has real dangers.” 

Villano urges people to opt for safer water activities.  

“You just don’t know what’s going to happen on that,” she said. “I would go to places that are more safe like pools or something that you can really keep an eye on and have control of and just have fun as a family. Don’t risk it. It’s not worth it.”

Larger signs in both English and Spanish are now installed to warn tubers, swimmers and boaters going down the river. 

If you plan to visit the river keep these things in mind:

  • Time out your journey and let someone know when you plan to get out of the water
  • Wear a proper life vest. A tube does not count
  • Watch for warning signs along the river bank
  • Bring your cell phone and keep it in a plastic bag