By Alex Hannaford in Houston

It was a 12-hour ordeal that resulted in four civilian rescuers going missing after their boat hit a power line in rushing floodwaters caused by Hurricane Harvey.

Their friend, together with a British photographer and his American colleague who had gone to cover a story, survived by clinging to a tree all night.

Ruaridh Connellan, 26, a London-born freelance photographer who now lives in New York and was taken to a Houston hospital by police, recounted his ordeal during the heaviest deluge in US history, which has cost at least 30 lives.


Together with a colleague, Connellan had found a group of five men preparing to launch their boat into floodwaters that had stranded one of the men's grandmothers in her house.

"We got in the boat with them and began heading towards her house to rescue her," Connellan told the Daily Telegraph. "We thought it would be a good story; good pics."

But he said as soon as the boat entered the water it veered out of control and immediately started heading towards some low-hanging power lines.

"Everyone jumped ship but we got zapped. I was in the water right by these power lines and I just felt this electric current go through my body. I thought I was done for. Then it stopped but it started again. I could see four of the men lying in the water - one of them, floating on his back in his life jacket."

Connellan, his colleague Alan Butterfield and one other man were pulled along by the current, which he estimated was flowing at around 50 km/h.

The three clung on to the upturned hull of the motorboat. "Eventually there was this tree approaching out in the middle of the water and Alan said to grab hold and ditch the boat. We were hanging on to a branch with this mad floodwater rushing past."

Butterfield, a MailOnline reporter, and the other man managed to climb the tree, but Connellan said the floodwaters were too strong.

"I tried a couple of times but fell back in the water and thought I was going to drift off again, but I managed to hold on to the branch."


It was late afternoon and Connellan would cling on until the early hours of the morning while the other men sat in the limbs of the tree above him.

"I'd pretty much convinced myself I was going to die at this point," he said.

"The only thing that kept me going was thinking about my girlfriend and my dog. That's what gave me these scars, because I was gripping so hard."

Locke Meredith takes a picture of a wall of water while watching the waves along the Mandeville lakefront as strong winds from Harvey move across south Louisiana. Photo / AP
Locke Meredith takes a picture of a wall of water while watching the waves along the Mandeville lakefront as strong winds from Harvey move across south Louisiana. Photo / AP

His hands are scarred red. He has additional scarring on his head, legs and feet.

"It got really rough because it kept raining and the pressure just increased," he said.

While it was still dark, and the only sound was the water rushing across his body, the branch Connellan was clinging to snapped.


Thinking there was nothing left he could do to save himself, he reached for a bush and held on, managing to kick his legs in the water to propel himself forward enough to bury himself inside its branches.

Once dawn broke, he realised the bush he'd been holding on to was close to some other trees, so he moved across and managed to climb on to one. He spent another four hours in the tree, before rescuers finally arrived.

"I had a rain jacket on, wellies, two cameras, and I had to peel everything off that was weighing me down on that branch so I was down to my T-shirt and underwear," Connellan said. "Life's more important, I guess."

When police arrived to rescue the three, Connellan said he was too weak to pull himself into their boat. "I just broke down and cried. I thought that was it; that I wouldn't make it out alive."