EXCLUSIVE: Rhetta Cadle details 7 hour survival through deadly fire

Published: May. 4, 2017 at 6:39 PM EDT
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News 12 NBC 26 / Thursday, May 4, 2017

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The morning of June 2, 2015 a raging fire trapped 83-year-old Rhetta Cadle in her apartment at Marshall Square for seven hours.

The fire started in the dead of night. By daylight, the flames were out and crews were digging through the rubble. It wasn't until then they heard Rhetta's cries for help. After pushing through the debris, EMTs rushed her out of her 3rd floor bathroom where she was huddled and into an ambulance.

Even when everyone else lost hope, Rhetta never did. Officials even told her son she had surely died in the fire and sent him home. But, she survived.

Earlier this week, nearly two years after the fire, attorneys settled her lawsuit for pain and suffering.

"How are you feeling today now that it's finally over?" reporter Christie Ethridge asked.

"Relieved. Relieved," Rhetta said.

Beneath her sparkly necklace and warm blue eyes is a woman with a will of steel.

"You're a true survivor," Christie said.

"That I am. I'm very proud," Rhetta replied.

Two years ago, Rhetta spent seven hours huddled in the bathroom of her apartment at Marshall Square Retirement Community willing herself to live as the life she knew burned down around her.

"For hours I had been screaming for someone, and they were downstairs. They couldn't hear me," she said.

Trapped on the third floor of what was supposed to be her forever home, she watched her future get lost in smoke.

"What kept your mind from straying to really dark places?" Christie asked.

"Well honey, it does. It will go from hope to no one can hear me, so I'm desolate," Rhetta said.

She struggled trying to find balance between two deadly forces, sheltering from both flames and the constant stream of water trying to extinguish it.

"A lot of time I was trying to figure out what was going to happen to me. Truly I was beating on a door, on the floor, on anything that might pass on noise to somebody that might be able to hear me," Rhetta said.

Somehow the fire inside her burned stronger than the one that destroyed her apartment, and between going in and out of consciousness, she fought until daylight.

"How did you not lose hope?" Christie asked.

"I don't know I don't think I've ever lost hope in anything," Rhetta said. "I've had some women tell me 'Well, I would have gone all to pieces. I don't know how in the world you did it. I would have gone all to pieces.' Well, what would you have conquered by going all to pieces?"

After she was rescued, a new battle began, one that crept in during the quiet of the night, growing louder in silence and shattering the peace in her mind.

"I told everybody I was fine. That's a fact. I told everybody I was fine, but I wasn't. I was going crazy," she said.

Those haunting memories prompted both a prayer to forget and a blessing to be alive to remember all while processing grief over the loss of her cat.

"Oh he was my buddy," she said.

Somehow in the sea of sadness, Rhetta never forgot how to smile.

"What kind of cat was he?" Christie asked.

"He was just a cat cat," Rhetta laughed.

She always kept her priorities straight.

"You know, you have some famous words. When you came out of that home, you said you wanted a shower and a biscuit. How was that biscuit?" Christie asked.

"Delicious! Truly, I remember saying that," Rhetta said.

Even though that's all she asked for, she deserved a heck of a lot more than that. Earlier this week, she got it. Her attorneys avoided going to trial by reaching a settlement. Since the terms are confidential, we won't know how much the companies have to pay, but Rhetta says being able to put this behind her is priceless.

"Has this changed you?" Christie asked.

"Yes, I'd have to tell you it did," Rhetta said.

The anniversary next month is a bittersweet truth, but Rhetta says she will mark the day with pride.

"Oh I think I'll be very proud that I'm still here to think about it," she said.