BUTTE COUNTY, Cal. (CNN) - It’s been a terrifying few days for a family after 68-year-old Paula Beth James disappeared.
She has dementia and gets disoriented sometimes. As the days dragged on, her family worried they’d never see her again.
For six long days and six sleepless nights, stepdaughter Laura Powell feared the worst: “This morning, we thought she was probably dead.”
Her picture could be seen on a flyer around town as authorities issued a silver alert.
“Everybody was nervous. We were all kind of freaking out,” neighbor Andrea Mox said.
And as temperatures dropped, so did hope.
“We just felt like we were doomed. It’s literally a miracle that they found her in just the knick of time,” Powell said.
Each day, the Butte County Sheriffs helicopter kept flying, looking for any sign of her.
After more than 100 hours of searching, a miracle occurred.
“One of the sergeants thought he spotted a vehicle that matched the description of the silver Toyota 4runner driven by Paula Beth James,” said Megan McMann of Butte County Sheriff’s Dept..
Buried underneath layers of snow in Butte Meadows was her SUV, and inside, James herself.
“She was awake and conscious, and she looked at them and said, ‘I’m very cold right now. I hope you brought a blanket,’” Powell said.
She was cold, hungry, but alive.
After days in the cold, James developed some frostbite and was severely dehydrated, but they say she’s going to be just fine.
“I was shocked and really amazed. She’s a pretty tough little lady so that’s pretty cool,” Mox said.
Her family said she stayed warm by periodically turning on the car for heat and staying warm with blankets and floor mats from inside the SUV.
They said her rescue came just in time.
“I really want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart to the sheriff’s department," Powell said. "They want above and beyond and we really appreciate them for that.”
She and her sisters are holding their mom a little tighter, treating each minute with her as a gift.
“I just so thankful for the relief that everyone is going to have tonight knowing that she’s safe and fed and we’ll get to bring her home soon,” Powell said.