As Hurricane Ian decimated the Gulf Coast of Florida last week, a woman in Fort Myers swam to safety in 10-foot-deep waters with her three-month-old son swaddled in a blanket and secured in a car seat that she tucked inside a storage bin.
“Terrifying,” Callie Brown told KSBW 8 Actions News, which first reported her story. “The most terrifying thing I’ve ever gone through my entire life.”
Brown’s video footage shared with the local media outlet showed the vantage point from her attic, where she and her partner, Chad Duckwall, and their 3-month-old son Charlie took refuge as the Category 4 hurricane caused ocean waters and massive rainfall to batter Florida’s western coastline.
Brown said her “mom instincts” kicked in when she found a plastic storage tote filled with Christmas decorations that she immediately emptied before creating a safeguard for Charlie.
“He was such a little trooper.” Brown said. “He didn’t even cry.”
While caring for her son, Duckwall found another storage bin he used for the family cat as they floated toward a neighbor’s house on higher ground for safety.
Brown said they were caught in the eye wall of the hurricane at the time of the escape, which produced up to 150-mile-per-hour winds causing debris to fly all around them.
Thankfully, she said, no one was hurt.
“I didn’t know if we were going to make it — to be totally honest,” Brown said. “I remember looking at Chad and just saying, ‘I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die.'”
The next day, they returned to their home to assess the damage caused by Florida’s fifth most powerful storm to hit the U.S. mainland, which brought 250-500mm (10-20 inches) of rainfall and storm surges of 12-15ft that drove 1.7 million people from their homes, according to The Guardian.
Brown and Duckwall hoped to salvage their belongings, but most of the stuff had been displaced or damaged, noting their couch landed on the kitchen counter, and the dining room table moved into the living room.
The family will stay with one of their relatives in a condo until they can rebuild and recover from the storm.
Brown told local media that they experienced Hurricane Irma in 2017, which she said they evacuated then for no reason and ultimately caused her to ignore the mandatory evacuation order.
Which she now regrets.
“I will never stay again,” Brown said. “I will absolutely evacuate — I don’t care if it’s a category 1, I’m not staying ever again for a hurricane. I never want to experience that again.”
In the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, reports show the storm has left 32 people dead in Florida and South Carolina, approximately 10,000 people are still considered missing, and could cost Florida up to $40 billion of insured losses.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said Hurricane Ian’s damage to Florida’s Gulf Coast communities was a “character-altering event.”
“There are entire communities — Fort Myers Beach no longer exists,” Rubio said. “I mean, it’ll have to be rebuilt. It’ll be something different. And even the structures that are standing — I was with the Coast Guard two days ago as we went overhead on it — even the structures that are standing have been damaged by water, probably uninhabitable and have to be razed.”