Hurricane Survivors Tell Ghastly Stories: 'It Was Hell'

Fort Myers-area residents describe nightmarish experiences
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 30, 2022 8:33 AM CDT
Fort Myers Residents Recount a Hellish 24 Hours
A home burns on Sanibel Island in the wake of Hurricane Ian, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Fla.   (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

In the Fort Myers area, which was hit especially hard by Hurricane Ian, residents are assessing the scale of the devastation and describing a hellish 24 hours. Homes, roads, and businesses have been destroyed. Authorities, who are still trying to determine the death toll, say the recovery will take years.

  • "A feeling of helplessness." Fort Myers resident Karen Baughman, 81, tells Politico that she had "a feeling of helplessness" as she sat in her home, waiting the hurricane raging around her to pass. “It was just waiting and praying that it got over in a hurry, and it did not," she says." It just parked next to us."

  • "It was hell." On Sanibel Island, a barrier island that was under a mandatory evacuation order, residents who remained were rescued Thursday. "It was hell," 95-year-old Yolanda Welch tells the News-Press. "I’ve been through five hurricanes, and this is the worst one." She says one of her glass pane doors snapped off its track as the hurricane hit the island. "If you can believe this, I stood and held that door so it wouldn’t blow out. For four and half hours," she says. "The wind was just ghastly, the strength of that wind." Authorities say at least two people on the island died.
  • "I watched my house disappear." James Burdette, who had planned to ride out the storm at his home in a North Fort Myers trailer park, ran across the street after he felt the winds lift his home a few inches from the ground. "I literally watched my house disappear with everything in it, right before my eyes,” said James the 62-year-old tells the AP. "I watched things start to fly, part of the roof went off, the rest of the roof went off, the walls caved in."

  • "I lost everything I own." State Rep. Spencer Roach fled to his brother's home on the other side of the state Tuesday night, but he stayed in touch with neighbors as the storm destroyed his home in a waterfront neighborhood in North Fort Myers. "I lost everything I own,” said Roach says, per Politico. "I have two pairs of jeans, four shirts, and a pair of shoes to my name. Everything is gone."
  • A desperate struggle to escape. Stan Pentz says he struggled to get out of his mobile home in Fort Myers after water burst through the sliding doors Wednesday, USA Today reports. He says that when he got out, the current dragged him to bushes where he stayed for three hours, being hit by debris, until he could swim to safety. He says his home is still underwater.
  • Not safe on the second floor. Downtown Fort Myers resident Savannah Ault says she thought the second floor of her apartment was safe—until it was hit by boats. "We were in our apartment, we didn't think it was going to flood as much as it did," she tells CBS. "Then the water started coming up over the doorknobs to the first floor and then midway to the windows. When that happened two boats came in from the harbor. Now there are currently two boats in my apartment complex."
(Read more Hurricane Ian stories.)

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