It took an 11-year-old Florida girl only an hour to realize she was lost in an alligator-infested wilderness area near her home. When she heard a lone rescuer calling her name four days later, Nadia Bloom was barefoot, tired, hungry and covered from head to toe with bug bites.
“I was excited. I’ve never been so excited in my life,” she told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Monday of the moment she was rescued two weeks ago. “I was finally going to get found, and I was finally going to get out of those woods.”
Nadia spoke publicly about her ordeal for the first time via satellite from Orlando, Fla., with her parents, Jeff and Tanya Bloom. She showed no outward signs of what she’d gone through, although she told Lauer, “I’m still itchy.” As if for emphasis she scratched at her neck, and added that she is still using Aquaphor, an anti-itch ointment, “which I hate.”
‘I missed my family’
Nadia got lost on April 9 when she entered a wilderness area not far from her home. Although a search was launched soon after she disappeared, it would be four days before James King, a volunteer searcher, found her in the dense swamp.
Lauer asked Nadia how long it took after she ventured into the swamp to realize she was lost.
“About an hour,” she said.
“Were you scared?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she said.
“I tried to think that somebody would rescue me,” Nadia continued. But eventually it got dark, and she knew she would have to find a place to spend the night.
“I had to sleep in this bush, which was itchy,” she said. “I missed my family.”
Nadia has a mild form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome, but she was expressive and responsive. She’s also had some practice telling her story. After spending a week in the hospital recovering from her insect bites and a bacterial infection in her blood, she spoke Sunday to the congregation at her church.
“You wouldn’t believe what I saw. I got to see this snake — it was a water moccasin, but I kept my distance from it,” she told the congregation. Standing with Nadia were her parents and a younger sister. She also has an infant sister who was just over a week old when Nadia got lost.
The longest walk
Nadia had brought no food or water with her. She knew not to eat berries that were poisonous, but did eat some plants growing in the water.
“There were these plants on the first and second day,” the dark-haired girl told Lauer. “They were spongy, kind of. They had water in them and you could eat them. They were kind of like food. They were water plants.”
“You know what?” she told her congregation Sunday with comic emphasis. “The whole reason I even went into these woods was because I really wanted to see nature, and I really did get to see nature.”
Everyone laughed at Nadia’s joke, but two weeks earlier, it was anything but funny. Her mother remembered how painful it was the first night of the search when police told her to go home and get some sleep.
“That was the hardest walk home ever,” Tanya said. “They told us to get home and get a little bit of rest. We were back in a couple of hours. It was incredibly difficult.”
Her husband said that thinking his daughter was lost in the dark wilderness area was torture to a parent, “especially when it was hardest when it gets dark and you just don’t know if she’s crying, scared or what condition she’s in. It’s a terrible feeling,” Jeff said.
Darkness, then sunshineOn the morning of Nadia’s fifth day in the swamp, James King, a civilian who was familiar with the Florida wilderness and once a member of the same church as the Blooms, decided to search one particularly dense area of the swamp.
“I went in and the Lord led me directly to her,” King told Meredith Vieira when he came on TODAY April 14 to describe the rescue. King had been searching about two hours when he found Nadia in undergrowth so dense he had to be practically on top of her before he could see her.
King gave Nadia a nutrition drink and water and called in a helicopter and rescue crew. It took more than an hour to get Nadia out of the swamp, but she was in remarkably good shape. She was only about a mile away from her home.
Jeff Bloom described what he felt when police called to tell him and his wife that Nadia had been found alive and in good shape.
“It was like all the darkness flowed out and the sunshine just came rushing in,” he told Lauer. “That’s how it felt.”