‘I’m finding it hard watching her children go through life’; survivor of the Dan River tragedy opens up about loss of sister, mother

Piedmont Triad News

ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — A survivor on the deadly Dan River accident in Rockingham County last week is asking for continued prayers. 

The family float trip ended in tragedy when a group of nine family members went over a Duke Energy dam Wednesday afternoon. 

“We thought it was just a bump in the river, you know we’d go down,” said Irene Villano. 

Villano says everyone was unaware of the danger ahead as they all plunged over the 8-foot-high dam. 

“The last person that I got to see was my mom, but she was already gone and there really wasn’t much we could do,” said Villano. 

Villano says she survived by gripping a hole in the wall with her pinky. 

Rockingham County crews didn’t rescue her and three family members until Thursday afternoon. That night, three other people were found dead in the water, including Bridish Crawford. 

“My mom was the best woman I’ve ever met in this world. I’ve never met a woman that could come with so much care and compassion. I’ve always felt loved by her, supported by her. I’ve never felt like I had to hide anything from her,” said Villano. 

The rough waters also killed Raven Winfrey’s 7-year-old nephew, Isiah Crawford, who was found in the river Sunday morning. 

“It’s devastating and it’s just been pure devastation for all of us, especially the ones who survived,” said Winfrey.

Winfrey says Isiah Crawford’s mom was not only her sister, but her best friend. 

“I’m just going to miss sharing everything with my sister and I’m finding it hard watching her children go through life and me creating memories,” said Winfrey. 

While the family grieves and starts to bury their loved ones, they aren’t quicky to forget Teresa Villano, another family member, is still missing. 

“When you are at home as a mom and your kids are outside and you are wondering, and you are worrying. I’m not Teresa’s mother, but I know that feeling and that uncertainty just waiting for news. Your breath is held,” said Winfrey. 

Powerful waters tore apart this family and they are determined to make sure no one else feels their pain. 

“They did not die in vain. I’m here to be their advocate and I’m here to spread awareness so that this doesn’t happen to anyone else,” said Winfrey. 

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