Hurricane Ian survival stories: Narrow escapes, harrowing rescues, floodwater fish – Reuters

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Kathy Sharp thought she’d be safe at Thunderbird Park, a palm-studded retirement mobile home community two miles from the Gulf of Mexico. For days, forecasters had indicated that Hurricane Ian was heading toward Tampa.

But as the storm moved in and tore Fort Myers apart, Sharp looked out the window and noticed pieces of his neighbor’s roof flying through the air. Shortly after, her own house began to crumble, with the strong wind throwing aluminum panels into the whirlwind of airborne debris.

“It was like a river out of nowhere,” said Sharp, 74, describing the apocalyptic storm surge. “There was nothing there, and then all of a sudden there was like a foot of water in the house.”

Frightened, Sharp and her husband, Lonny Henry, frantically called 911. Even before a dispatcher picked up, however, the couple knew no one would come to their rescue.

Harrowing stories of survival surfaced in southwest Florida on Thursday as first responders rescued hundreds of people from homes turned into islands surrounded by still-deep floodwaters. An elderly woman told how the water rose so high she only had six inches of room to breathe. A couple described looking out the window and seeing several large fish swimming by.

Many described being caught off guard – settling in as Ian approached with supplies of non-perishable food, water and generators close at hand, only to find their homes were not within reach. the height of the storm.

In communities near Fort Myers Beach, the water was so powerful it collapsed buildings, toppled concrete walls and pushed sailboats and dumpsters hundreds of feet. At a gas station, a large boat found itself parked next to a gas pump, as if ready to fill up. Dozens of people were still waiting to be rescued from trailer parks, residential developments and luxury waterfront apartment complexes in a part of the state that is home to a large elderly population.

Everett Bailey, 56, said he was sleeping on a sofa and woke up to see water starting to pour into his two-story house. He immediately waded through the flood to retrieve his car.

“The water was also in the car,” he said. “But my car started and I drove it to the church.”

He returned home when the water receded to find his waterlogged possessions in ruins.

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A few doors away, Anne Dalton, 70, counts herself lucky that the flooding stopped within inches of reaching the inside of the home her family has owned since the 1980s. But as she watched With murky water swirling around her home on Thursday, Dalton said she nonetheless experienced the scariest night of her life.

“What’s weird is that it was like a river of currents, and it wasn’t calm water at all,” she said. “It pulsated, and it also pulsated underwater. It was very scary, because we couldn’t go anywhere. We would simply have fallen.

At one point, Dalton’s husband, Oliver Martin, looked outside and saw a school of fish.

“They weren’t small,” said Martin, 75. “There were 8 to 12 inch fish swimming around.”

In another subdivision of McGregor Boulevard – a main throughway from Fort Myers to Fort Myers Beach – Laurent Boce, 58, estimated that Ian caused a 13ft storm towards his house, which is about 11 feet above sea level.

“It was like five, six hours of sheer madness,” said Boce, who was essentially trapped in his housing estate on Thursday as parts of the street remained under two feet of water. “I was able to sit in a chair and watch the water and debris come in, come in, come in.”

Boce’s neighbor Karen More, 69, said she would never underestimate a hurricane again.

As she watched the floodwaters carry debris down her street, the wind began to rattle her door.

“I was holding my front door because of the wind and I didn’t know what else to do,” she said. “I didn’t know what else to do. I thought the ocean was going to pass.

In downtown Fort Myers, the Caloosahatchee River overflowed, flooding several blocks inland. In neighborhoods closer to the Gulf of Mexico, the water rose so high against structures — especially trailers — that it toppled interior walls, said Myke Hastings of Gulf Search and Rescue, a Texas-based team , as he attempted to verify stranded residents. in a trailer park.

Maps show the impact of Hurricane Ian

He remembers saving a 77-year-old woman in a life jacket who said she had only six inches of space between the floodwaters and her ceiling.

“She was trapped,” Hastings said. “We had to dig it up. Everything had collapsed around her and she couldn’t get out of her trailer even though the water had receded.

About 25 miles to the north in Punta Gorda, winds buffeted residents of Creekside RV Park, who said the eye of Hurricane Ian passed directly overhead.

Deborah Clark, 57, and her husband have lived in their 40ft trailer for two years as they build a house nearby.

Around 8 a.m. Wednesday, Clark woke up as her unit began to shake.

“My gut was like, ‘This is bad,'” said Clark, who hadn’t expected the winds to pick up so soon.

She rushed to the community’s clubhouse, which she says was built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane. Within hours, 30 other residents were crammed inside. For the next six hours, they watched from their windows as Hurricane Ian overturned their trailers.

“It looked like planes flying overhead,” Clark said. “But you knew it wasn’t airplanes. And then you could almost hear a whistle.

When the wind died down, residents discovered that approximately 40 of the 50 recreational vehicles that were parked at the site had been overturned or destroyed. One was pushed into a pond.

“For most people, these are their homes,” said Erik Clark, Deborah’s husband. “Everything they own is in these motorhomes.”

The Clarks said they decided not to evacuate Punta Gorda ahead of the storm because it was originally expected to make landfall near Tampa. When they realized on Tuesday the forecast had changed, Erik Clark said he was worried the roads would be congested with traffic.

Many said they wouldn’t hesitate to leave the next time a powerful hurricane hits.

As floodwaters seeped into her home on Wednesday, Sharp and her husband watched from a kitchen table and prayed while trying to stay as calm as possible.

“We were just sitting there in the water,” she said, adding that “that storm made me honestly believe” in the power of wind and water.

When they looked out the window, the couple saw “roofs going by and insulation” floating down the street. At one point, a neighbour’s washing machine was vacuumed out of a house. Another neighbor’s 600-pound toolbox flew away.

“By midnight it was pretty much over,” Clark’s husband, Henry, said. “And when we got up this morning, we started cleaning.”

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