Ian: Florida residents recall harrowing storm that was ‘like a river out of nowhere’

As Floridians work to recover from the catastrophic damage caused when Hurricane Ian barreled through the state, stories of survival reveal the terror caused by the Category 4 storm.

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One woman told The Washington Post that the water rose so high at her home that she had only 6 inches of space in which to breathe.

After the storm made landfall in southwest Florida on Wednesday, the beach towns were the first to absorb the brunt of the hurricane’s 155 mph winds. Towns including Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel Island and Punta Gorda -- a city that was ravaged by Hurricane Charley in 2004 -- were exposed to high winds and more importantly, floodwaters.

“We were all humbled by the devastation across the island,” Sanibel Island City Manager Dana Souza told the Fort Myers News-Press.

Houses were ripped from their foundations by waters, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

“It was just like a river out of nowhere,” Kathy Sharp, 74, of Fort Myers, told the Post about the storm surge that smashed into her mobile home at Thunderbird Park, a community for retirees located about two miles from the Gulf of Mexico. “There was nothing there, and then all the sudden there was like a foot of water in the house.”

Everett Bailey, 56, of Fort Myers Beach, told the newspaper he was asleep on a couch but was awakened by water spilling into his one-story home. He immediately waded through the flood to get his car.

“The water was in the car, too,” Bailey told the Post. “But my car started, and I drove it to the church.”

“I made it about two-thirds down the island and I’d say 90% of the island is pretty much gone,” Fort Myers Beach Town Councilman Dan Allers told CNN. “Unless you have a high-rise condo or a newer concrete home that is built to the same standards today, your house is pretty much gone.”

Leoma Lovegrove, an artist who lives in Matlacha, an island located between Fort Myers and Fort Myers Beach, said her home suffered heavy damage but her art gallery was unscathed, the News-Press reported.

“It’s like nothing ever touched it. It’s unbelievable,” Lovegrove told the newspaper from Ohio, where she evacuated before the hurricane. “I  can’t believe it. I nearly fell to the ground and started screaming when I saw it was there. Because everything around me’s demolished.”

In Fort Myers Beach, meanwhile, several residents spoke about people who were not as fortunate.

“We’ve seen bodies everywhere,” John Galatro, who rode out the storm in the Leonardo Arms condominium, told the Miami Herald. “We counted 10 people in our building who died trying to climb to the roof during the height of the surge. That water was raging and swept some away. I personally covered one with a blanket. We made ‘Deceased’ signs so the helicopters could see them.”

Galatro told the newspaper that residents in the area will “need a lot of therapy.”

“We rescued an old couple who had to tread water for hours,” Galatro told the newspaper. “We pulled them out of a flooded laundromat where they said they were holding onto whatever they could to keep afloat.”

Laurent Boce, 58, of Fort Myers, told the Post that an estimated 13-foot storm surge battered his home, which is 11 feet above sea level.

“It was just like five, six hours of pure madness,” Boce told the newspaper. “I was able to sit in a chair and just watch the water and debris come in, in, in.”

Cathy Mondro, of North Port, was able to escape her home with her husband and their two dogs by kayak.

As floodwaters rose, Mondro’s husband waded to a neighbor’s home and borrowed the kayak, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported.

“There was no place to go,” she told the newspaper.

In rural Arcadia, northeast of Fort Myers, railroad tracks along a road were picked up from the ground and were twisted, the Times reported.

Roads leading into the farming community, where the median household is approximately $34,000, were shredded by Ian’s wrath, the newspaper reported. Trailers and homes were submerged in water.

Karen More, 69, of Fort Myers, said she would never underestimate a hurricane again.

“I was holding my front door, because of the wind, and I didn’t know what else to do,” More told the Post. “I didn’t know what else to do. I thought the ocean was going to come through.”