Hurricane Ian First Anniversary Stories

Article by Greg Dodge and Lauren Rossi

Photography by Samantha Bloom, Alex White, and provided

Originally published in Naples City Lifestyle

Stories From Collier County Sheriffs Dept: Dispatcher Above and Beyond

Collier County Sheriff’s Office dispatchers might call it a routine part of their job, but a Wisconsin man said one CCSO dispatcher went “above and beyond” the call of duty when she reached out to a neighboring jurisdiction to help him find his missing family members after Hurricane Ian.

“I wanted to take a moment to thank you and your entire team for the response after this most recent storm,” John Priester of Kieler, Wisconsin wrote in a message to Sheriff Kevin Rambosk after the September 28, 2022 storm struck Collier County. “I would also like to send out a special thanks to a dispatcher (I did not catch her name) who went above and beyond to help me and my family locate our aunt and uncle who were lost on Fort Myers Beach. I know that area is not your county and again, that is what makes this so great.”

Priester called the Lee County Sheriff’s Office’s non-emergency number, but was unable to get through. He then called CCSO’s Communications Center due to its proximity and knowing the agency could potentially help.

“Your dispatcher took the information, sent it over to Lee County and they then were able to successfully locate my family,” Priester wrote.

Priester explained that his family had lost contact with the couple during the storm during their third attempt to find safety after their house flooded and the second house they took refuge in started to collapse. Priester was contacted by a Lee County deputy, who said his family members were found safe with needed provisions until they could leave.

CCSO dispatchers answered thousands of phone calls in the days after the storm. Many of those calls required contact with other jurisdictions. CCSO and its law enforcement partners all work together in times of crisis. It’s what first responders do.

Story Sponsored by Meredith and Jeff Gibbons

Stories From Collier County Sheriff's Department: Message from Sheriff Rambosk

As a public safety professional, I can tell you that hurricane recovery becomes priority one as soon as life/safety rescues and initial needs have been met in the aftermath of a major storm. Immediately after Hurricane Ian, we created an enhanced safety and security plan specifically for the areas of Collier County that were heavily impacted by the storm. We called it the Coastal Safety and Security Operation. The goal: to protect storm-ravaged areas from looters and other criminals, while still providing law enforcement services throughout the county. I am proud of the results.

Thanks to our dedicated CCSO deputies and Naples police officers, dozens of people with nefarious intentions were arrested before they could victimize anyone locally. Many of these individuals were convicted felons from outside the area who traveled here specifically to commit crimes.

From the air, water and land, during daylight and throughout the night, we detected and prevented criminals from preying on our community during storm recovery. The innovative technology we have available to protect you and your property is extraordinary. The men and women of our agency are trained, committed and dedicated to safety and security.

We are fortunate to have exceptional first responders throughout our county who are steadfast in their duty and devoted to the safety of our residents, businesses and visitors. The bottom line is this: if you come to Collier County to commit crime, we will arrest you. You will be held accountable for your criminal activity.

Story Sponsored by Patrick Dearborn

Stories From Collier County Sheriff's Department: Corporal Carver

As the water rolled in, so did the swamp buggies, airboats and marine boats.

The winds from Hurricane Ian were lessening and now the storm surge was coming in. Corporal Jerrod Carver was monitoring the rising water from the Collier County Sheriff’s Office’s special operations building. He and the other deputies began preparing the agency’s high-water vehicles and other assets on the ground. They were needed. The area where Cpl. Carver was stationed on September 28, 2022 got three to four feet of storm surge, while parts of coastal Collier County got nearly 12 feet. Over the next several hours CCSO deputies would enter areas of flooding and perform hundreds of rescues, many of them people trapped in their homes who were brought to safety.

As the water reached the door handles of some of the low-riding vehicles, Cpl. Carver, an 18-year CCSO veteran including the last 10 years in the Agriculture Bureau, mounted an agency swamp buggy and deployed to high-priority rescue calls with the other deputies. They were barely getting underway when they encountered a family of six walking in high water along Airport-Pulling Road, trying to get to higher ground. The deputies brought the family aboard the swamp buggy and transported them to safety.

Similar scenes played out over the next few hours as Cpl. Carver and his fellow deputies traveled by swamp buggy and later by airboat, going house to house knocking on doors, pulling people from stranded vehicles, and responding to 911 calls.  

“It was mayhem for a while,” Cpl. Carver recalled.

They carried people and their pets from flooded homes. The memory of many of the storm victims carrying the salvageable contents of their lives in a single shopping bag still lingers. “There was an elderly lady who was so grateful for what we were doing, but she had lost everything,” he recalled. “She was so thankful to get out.” Then there was the man who told Cpl. Carver he had no food or water. Cpl. Carver gave him some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches his wife had made, along with some of his crackers and water. He shrugged off the gesture, saying that it feels good to help others. After a long and difficult week, Cpl. Carver was able to return to his home and see his wife and children who had evacuated during the storm.

“My kids came out and give me a big ol’ hug,” he said, adding that his wife is the real hero in his household. “It’s because of her, and all that she does for us, that I can do my job.” 

Stories From CC Sheriffs Dept: Sargent Solomon

An unlikely friendship was formed when a good-hearted CCSO deputy went above and beyond the call of duty after Hurricane Ian. Sgt. Chris Solomon is normally assigned to the Collier County Sheriff’s Office’s Youth Relations Bureau. But in the days immediately after the storm pummeled Collier County with strong winds and record storm surge, Sgt. Solomon was one of many deputies responsible for checking on residents whose family and friends hadn’t heard from them to make sure they were OK. Wyella Gaymon’s family was unable to reach her and requested a CCSO welfare check.

Sgt. Solomon remembers going to Gaymon’s house. She didn’t have any power, so he let her use his cell phone to call her family. She needed a few things, so he went out and bought her ice so her food wouldn’t spoil, and some other items. He figured she was probably hungry on account of not having any power, so he stopped off at Jersey Mike’s and bought her a submarine sandwich.    

He returned the next day to check on the retired school teacher. He brought her some more ice and another sub and they chatted.

He stopped by a third day. He handed her a sub and she handed him a letter. He opened the letter in his patrol car. It began, “Sgt. Solomon, this is not much, but I just wanted to say thank you for your loving kindness towards your fellow man (me).”

The letter went on to say that the first time he visited was also her 74th birthday. She was sad because she was alone. And then he showed up with a “special gift” - the sub.

“You have no idea how that made me feel,” she wrote. “We didn’t officially celebrate, but my heart did.”

She signed her letter “Mama G” with her name in parenthesis.

Since that time there have been more visits. A lot more. Sgt. Solomon says he stops by Mama G’s every couple of months. They chat and catch up. He recently texted her to say that he won’t be by for a few weeks. He’s got a new baby to look after. But he’ll come to see her as soon as he can. The circumstances that brought them together created a bond. “She’s a very nice person,” Sgt. Solomon said.

Greater Naples Engineer / Paramedic Hurricane Events

By Daniel Garretto

I am an engineer/paramedic with Greater Naples Fire District. Some of my specialty roles for GNFD include Marine Emergency Response Team (MERT), Urban Search and Rescue team (USAR) and rescue/recovery diver.

The week of September 23-28, 2022 was one to remember. I, along with half the state of Florida, was in complete turmoil with Hurricane Ian and its potential threat. Prior to my next shift, I scrambled to prepare my family and home for a possible direct hit. I secured most of my outside belongings and threw up as many shutters as I possibly could in that short period of time. Luckily throughout the year my wife and I stock up on goods for an event just like this one. We were well prepared in the event of food shortages, fuel shortages and power outages after the storm. I was ready to leave my family behind, as I left for work.

My shift began at 0800 Wednesday morning on September 27. I was scheduled to work station 90. During the day, we prepared our station per our guidelines in the event of a storm hit. Hour after hour, Hurricane Ian’s track was changing little by little, leaning more towards the SW Florida coastline. By early evening, it was confirmed! Hurricane Ian was going to be a direct hit. The Battalion Chief reached out to my Lieutenant to move me to Station 72 to be placed on Attack 60 due to my marine operations specialty. I arrived at Station 72 to receive my orders from the officer in charge. Acting Lt. Matt Stoller and I were to run calls out of Attack 60 as a supplemental apparatus if it were to get busy. Throughout the night, we didn’t have many calls. During the late night/early morning hours we sat in our station and listened as Hurricane Ian approached. High winds and rain bands hitting the station was a strong indicator that it made landfall. Hours later, morning approached, and the sun began to rise. Our shift was to end at 0800, September 28. With the storm still in sight we were held over for another 24 hours. We were ready for our new assignment.

Matt and I were moved to Boat 601 for any Medical Emergency Response Team responses within the district. Shortly after, we were assigned to Everglades City for surge flooding in the neighborhood. We hooked up the trailer with Boat 601 to Attack 60 and responded to Everglades City. There were still strong winds and rain on our drive down south. We had to constantly maneuver our apparatus side to side with the torrential downpours. We felt the trailer sway back and forth. Luckily, no one was on the road at that time and our apparatus handled very well in those conditions. As we approached the entrance to Everglades City, the road was less and less visible. Water was rising and we found ourselves in another obstacle. The long stretch of road was underwater, which was the only way to reach the city. We found a spot off the side of the road to launch the boat. Just ahead the engine was high and dry on the bridge, the only area that was dry. Matt and I jumped in the boat and picked up Lieutenant Rob Mayberry. From there, the three of us started to venture off into the neighborhood. The sight was surreal. Homes, vehicles, and other objects were completely submerged underwater. Just the tops of boat lifts, basketball hoops, electrical poles, and gas pumps were visible. In the middle of all this chaos, I was on and off the phone with my wife. By this time, Ian had made a direct hit at Cape Coral, where I reside. My wife, who is in the medical field, understands my schedule and knows that I will be on shift during these deployments. She was home with my mom, dad, sister, and niece for the storm. I can tell you that she is a strong, independent, fearless woman, but talking with her on the phone throughout the storm, I could hear some fear in her voice. As I was trying to help these citizens, I was worrying about what was going on back home. She was in disbelief about the damage to our house from Ian. As I talked with her, our house was flooding, the roof was ripped off and water was coming in from the ceiling. We lost every free-standing object in our yard, not to mention our entire fence and tiki hut. The sliding glass doors, double doors and windows were buckling, bending, and bulging with the intense winds pushing against the house. Pavers sunk in, vehicles were severely damaged in the driveway, and the water system was ripped out. So, yes, that was not a comfortable feeling, knowing that I was 80 miles away and there was nothing I could do.

Within 10 minutes of being on the water, we were waved down by two residents in their homes. Just next to their house was their shop. Black smoke started to pour out of the building. We tried to gain access, however, it was nearly impossible to get to it. We rushed over to the two ladies as they were frantic. I leaped off the boat onto the stairwell of their stilt home. I ran inside with them to collect all their important documents and/or anything else of value. We placed everything in duffle bags and moved it to the boat. As we were packing their goods, conditions in the shop were getting worse. More and more thick black smoke started to push out of the eves and windows. We placed the ladies on our boat and took them over to a friend’s house just down the street. We were able to get them off safely along with their valuables just before their house went up in flames. With the shop connected to the house, the house then caught on fire. Unfortunately, there was nothing more we could do. However, the ladies were very grateful that we were there.

As the day went on, we traveled throughout the neighborhood checking on families in need. Fortunately, there were no other major issues. Everyone was very happy to see us and seemed to be in good spirits after this horrific event.

Later that night we were assigned to the generated light trailer for scene lighting on a staging/command post. Throughout the night, units that had been working nonstop were being cleared to return to quarters. We returned to Station 72 for decon and clean up to be ready for our next assignment. During the night we were able to have some downtime in between calls. The next morning, we were briefed on our new assignments. Fortunately, those of us who had been working the last 48 hours and sustained any damage to our home from Ian had the opportunity to go home to check on things if needed. 

As you can see, my experience with Hurricane Ian... well, I guess you can say, it was “one for the books!”

Story Sponsored by Blue Horse Agency

Stories from NCH Hospital: Critical Care Nurses Help Nursing Director

Hurricane Ian devastated our community and sadly, many members of our staff were directly impacted.

When our critical care nurses are not caring for patients at our hospitals, they are helping those in critical need in our community, including our CVICU and NVICU nursing director, Maria K., RN.

Her North Naples home was destroyed, and our resilient nurses stepped in to help clean out her home and prepare for a rebuild. A painting of the heart valve survived the storm and will be hung in one of our critical care units. The painting represents that the heart can withstand a lot of strain and be rebuilt stronger - just like our teams and community.

Stories from NCH Hospital: Logan at Marco Urgent Care

Marco Urgent Care is open!
We want to give a big shout-out to Logan J., radiology, who went above and beyond to make sure the Marco Urgent Care was spruced up and ready for patients less than 24 hours after Hurricane Ian. Not only did Logan clean up the debris in the employee and patient parking lots, but he also removed the storm shutters from the front lobby and created a makeshift “Marco Urgent Care Is Open” sign so patients could see that we were ready to take care of them. Thank you, Logan! 

Story sponsored By Hanna Vogel and Vogel Roofing

Stories from NCH Hospital: Hurricane Babies

The NCH BirthPlace was busy and safely welcoming very special hurricane babies throughout Hurricane Ian. Please help us wish a happy birthday to a couple of our babies delivered during the storm, Nayla and Brian! Brian was born on Wednesday, September 28 at 10:30 a.m. and Nayla was also born on Wednesday, September 28 at 12:01 p.m. Both babies and moms are doing well. Congratulations, on your new additions to the family!

Stories from NCH Hospital: Hurricane Ian Impact Debrief with Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio

Jennifer Smith, NCH Director of Emergency Management & Safety, Matthew Holliday, NCH Director of Advocacy & Government Affairs, and Tyler Willison, NCH Administrative Fellow met with Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio at the Collier County Emergency Operations Center and debriefed on Hurricane Ian's impact on NCH Healthcare System.

Story sponsored by Cristina Levon Aesthetics

Stories from NCH Hospital: NCH staff receives shipment of water, work uniforms from Miami Hospital

The community response to help our NCH Healthcare System staff impacted by Hurricane Ian has been remarkable. Our friends at Nicklaus Children’s Health System in Miami, who collaborate with NCH in providing exceptional pediatric care to our patients here in Collier County, donated nearly 20 pallets of bottled water and scrubs for distribution to NCH staff members in need. Those donated scrubs were added to the work uniform and shoe donations already generously contributed by United Uniforms / Sew Shore and those collected by our NCH employees for their colleagues. Nicklaus Children's Hospital President & CEO Matt Love along with Congressman Byron Donalds, State Representative Lauren Melo, and Global Empowerment Mission were all on hand to deliver water, scrubs, and shoes. Thank you!

Story sponsored by Collier 100

Hometown Heroes: Marco Patriots

By Annalisa Sawick

When Hurricane Ian hit, I think anyone that wasn’t familiar with the devastation a hurricane can potentially cause, was taken off guard, but not the Marco Patriots. Despite the fact that this time it was their hometown, the Marco Patriots were on it faster than you could say “Ian.” There is so much to say about this crew - hearing their stories about heroic rescues with Hurricane Harvey, sustaining damage to personal property, missing persons search and rescues, then rushing back to Florida to help their fellow citizens. These guys are nothing short of amazing.

Based on Marco, the crew consists of Ron Hagerman, Matt Melican, Dana Coote, Allan Gary, and Owen Maynard. They team up with EMS, the national guard, local organizations, and civilians to deliver supplies and provide rescues in otherwise hopeless situations. In the midst of the storm, they assist when no one else can and they never turn down a rescue call. Being in SWFL, we are part of a unique community where everyone wants to help. These guys take that energy and channel it towards the areas with the biggest need, partnering with local outreach programs for disaster response. They may be the boots on the ground, but Matt and Ron agree, that one of the most inspiring things they saw was the wave of volunteers who came in after them to provide essential relief. And who could forget about our beloved furry friends? Rachelle Gruber was crucial in animal rescue efforts. The team recognizes that with each storm, they become better organized and more effective. They have a Facebook page where people post about local citizens that may need some form of assistance. The most heart-warming part is the huge number of people who commented on how they can offer their services. If that’s not community at its finest, I don’t know what is.

If you feel as compelled as I did after my conversation to assist in their mission, they have a website where you can join their email list to help when needed: Community is everything and the Marco Patriots embody the whole concept. I can’t think of a better group to highlight.

Story sponsored by Venture Title Company

Naples Business Leaders Rescue Sheltered Pines

By Claudia Kahl 

Following the destruction of Hurricane Ian, a low-income community received life-changing help from neighboring communities. Sheltered Pines is a low-income trailer park community in Fort Myers. The residents of Sheltered Pines were left with very little. Debris crowded the already narrow streets. Some mobile homes lost their roofs. Some had caved-in walls.  

“Our neighbor's home down the street filled with water,” says Anthony Villa-Vanegas, a Sheltered Pines resident. “I heard that she tried to breathe for as long as she could, but she couldn’t anymore. She let go.” 

The community itself was already small, but the overcrowding of debris made it even smaller. Clean-up and restoration efforts were made by other surrounding community members. Husband and wife, Jake and Holly Maulin, the owners of Cyclebar Naples, turned their studio into a donation drop-off. Their members brought in all sorts of supplies, from necessities to games and toys for kids. At first, they operated the donation station as “take what you need,” but after receiving a tip on Sheltered Pines, they knew what they had to do. 

“Well, we received a tip from one of our riders that this community in San Carlos was in need of desperate help,” Holly Maulin says. “My husband and I gathered some supplies and headed up there with a few of our staff members.” 

When they arrived at Sheltered Pines, Maulin said the community was in ruins.  

“Homes were already filled with mold and the people were still living in them,” she says. “They were trying to salvage whatever they could from their homes because they didn’t want to go to a shelter, and they couldn’t afford new things.” 

After seeing the devastation firsthand, the Maulins shifted the goal of their donation table. They dedicated the donations solely to Sheltered Pines. They drove up supplies four times a week. Through their efforts, they met and became friends with the residents. They formed personal relationships with the families. They began taking some of the children to the mall to purchase new clothes and shoes for them. Other organizations like Laces of Love became involved and donated bags of new, unused shoes.  

“Jake and Holly changed my life,” Villa-Vanegas says. “I remember when I first met them, I asked for one pair of shoes. Instead, they took me to the mall and bought me clothes and shoes.”

Story sponsored by International Diamond Center

From Devastation to Inspiration, Ocana Family Journey

The year 2022 was one of change and surrender for the Ocana family. After spending nearly 17 years in corporate leadership, Kimberly was burnt out, with her health declining. In order to support Kimberly’s well-being, the family decided the time had come for her to leave corporate. To make this happen, the family sold their long-term home and downsized, moving into a quaint home in Bayshore. Within six months of moving into their new home, it was flooded by Hurricane Ian. The family was devastated and turned to family and community for support. Jason, a 12-year paramedic/firefighter with the City of Naples, spent the aftermath of the hurricane supporting the community, working day and night to help those in need. Two weeks after the landing of Hurricane Ian, Jason found himself in a very similar position to that of his wife six months earlier. He was tired, weary, and looking for meaning. While Jason very much enjoyed being of service to the community, since the COVID-19 pandemic, the work had gotten increasingly difficult, putting an extreme emotional toll on his well-being.

“It was one night I will never forget,” shares Kimberly. “We were in a home that was not ours, with the remainder of our things scattered. Our life was literally in pieces. I looked over at Jason and saw the exhaustion and deep sadness in his body. I asked him, "What can we do to make you happy?" The answer that followed shocked me. He said simply, “to move to Costa Rica.” Taken aback, I said, “Are you serious?”

What followed was a deeply emotional sharing of the internal struggle that Jason took on every day as a firefighter. He shared the difficulties only known by First Responders. "As his wife, my heart broke. I knew we had to make a change," says Kimberly.

Jason and Kimberly decided to follow a very personal calling to open a healing center in Costa Rica. Having lost much of what defined their life up to this point, together they will forge their passion for healing and being of service to help others who are in need. Ananda Lodge Costa Rica will open in the early summer of 2024. Follow their story on Instagram @AnandaLodgeCR or Facebook @Ananda Lodge Costa Rica. Donations of support are greatly appreciated.

Story sponsored by Anna and Chris Bowers

Heroism and Bravery Abound

There are countless stories of acts of heroism, bravery, and kindness that came from one of the deadliest hurricanes to strike the state of Florida since 1935. One of those stories is the heroic water rescue operation that took place in the East Naples area. At 12:58 p.m. GNFD crews were advised to respond to Smugglers Cove for a trapped elderly female confined to her home with rising flood waters. Crews responded to the KOA campground located at 1700 Barefoot Williams Rd. to utilize their boat ramp. This was the only available option in order for the crew to have a chance to reach the reported victim due to access issues. Upon their arrival, it was determined the boat ramp was inaccessible. Boat access was ultimately gained in the area south of Barefoot Williams Rd. and Tower Rd. Then, crews were able to reach the initial dispatched address and successfully rescue the trapped elderly female, as well as two others at nearby addresses. Driver/engineer John Pipitone, and driver/engineer Chris Mercier, accomplished this by dividing responsibilities. One member was the boat operator and the other dove into the water and brought the victims to a submerged vehicle in order for them to step onto the car and then onto the vessel.

The department established a command post behind the Home Depot on Airport Rd. South. Due to the rising flood waters, this was the most accessible location to rescue, triage, and transport victims. During this time, numerous calls were taken by communications with reports of victims trapped due to rising flood waters with no escape. By 7:30 p.m. all marine operations were ceased due to the receding water level and the inability to operate vessels inland. However, all land-based units continued to respond to reported addresses and rescue victims. Next up, a reported structure fire located off Mango Dr. and Tamiami Trl. E. Crews responded and began a fire attack in knee-high water, where they were able to suppress the fire until the water receded enough for an engine to make access. At 11:30 p.m., all addresses that were received by command had been searched and considered cleared. There were a confirmed 38 rescues made throughout the operation. 

The acts of heroism displayed during this operation, as well as many others, should be recognized. The Greater Naples Fire units went above and beyond the call of duty with immediate dangers to their safety. There is no doubt that lives were saved during this response. We applaud the heroic actions performed by the first responders involved in this operation.  

Story Sponsored By Steve Hagenbuckle and Live Fest

Giving back and delivering award winning, best in class music festivals, while supporting national and local charities drives Live Fest founder and executive producer Steve Hagenbuckle’s passion for creating and growing Southwest Florida’s largest outdoor music festival – Live Fest @RitzCarltonTiburon.  Steve and Maria Hagenbuckle have sent hundreds of thousands of dollars in event proceeds to charities such as CureSearch for Children’s Cancer Research, St. Mathews House, St. Jude Hospital, Smile Train Tunnel to Towers and Greater Good Music. Live Fest fed over 1,200 local families for weeks in the wake of Hurricane Ian, as well as supporting the underprivileged in other countries such as Colombia and South America. “Your attendance matters,” says Steve.

Boat Rescue: Downtown 5th Avenue

By John Pipitone

On September 27, I was called to Station 72 for boat operator overtime. The night was slow and the crew and I reviewed the forecast and started making plans. The next morning everyone had breakfast and we started the day like we always do. We made sure the boat was ready for the day and checked the rescue gear and tools. Attack 90 and Boat 901 were fueled up and ready to go when the hurricane hit. It was a nervous morning as we all didn't know what to expect now that the path was heading toward Ft. Myers. It was around 2 p.m. when Mercier and I got the call from Chief Diaz that a boat was needed for rescue in the downtown 5th Avenue area. We started heading south, and Chris and I spoke about where we could possibly put the boat in the water. As we arrived by Station 23, the water was a foot or more over the road, and we knew we would not be able to access the 951 boat ramp. I knew there was a boat ramp by the KOA campground that might work, but as we came down Price Street the water was so high, some of the boats on trailers from the campsite were floating in the road. So, getting to the KOA ramp was impossible without flooding the truck. 

We decided that on Barefoot Williams Road, the side swale would be deep enough to back the trailer in and get the boat launched. I jacked the trailer 90 degrees and put Chris right into the swale. As he idled on the road, he waited for me to put the truck on high ground over in front of Artesia, which was the only high ground for the truck. We didn't know how much higher the water would get. I grabbed my rain jacket and gear and waded through 2 feet of water to get to the boat. 

We were then off to downtown Naples.  As we were heading out, the water was so high in Rookery Bay that we had to use GPS to get through the channel. The channel markers were underwater. It took us about an hour to go through Rookery Bay, then the Keewaydin Channel, then to Naples Bay. It was a rough and wet ride, but we made it. 

The first address we went to was on the south side of the bay. We had to jump the dock at the end of a canal, then onto the main road to get to the houses. The mailboxes were underwater and the addresses were hard to see. Google Maps on my phone was a blessing. As we pulled up to the first house, we had to pull the boat in between two cars that were fully submerged, and we held onto the gutter of the house. Chris quickly hopped out of the boat and went to the door to find the victims. The ladies at the residence were very scared. We ended up with three patients on the boat and made quick work of getting them to safety. We thought a perfect drop-off point would be Kelly's Fish House by the 41 bridge, because the water was so high.

Kelly's was a perfect drop-off, as there was shelter from the wind and high ground by the building. After a quick drop-off of the patients, we headed back to the second address. It was unbelievable to see how high the water was in the street, and we were driving a boat where cars should have been. We couldn't take it all in, it was like something out of a movie. We ended up getting a total of eight patients out of their homes and condos. On the last try, Chief Andy Krajewski got on board to see if he could give us a hand. As we jumped the dock to get to the street we could see the water was regressing, and it was getting too shallow on the road to do any more rescues. We then headed back to Kelly's to see what else we could do. Since the water was regressing, we tied up the boat for the night at the marina next door because it was dark, and we didn't want to drive all the way back to Rookery to get the truck and trailer. 

We sat and told stories to Andy. Nixon got there and we all loaded into his truck. On the way to Home Depot where everyone was positioned for rescues, we headed down Davis Blvd. and we saw cars and boats floating all over the road. CCSO airboats and buggies were passing us as well, heading to town. It was crazy to see all the resources we have in the county being utilized. After a restless night's sleep, I went home to find that my house had four feet of water in it, and I also lost a vehicle in the storm. I had a lot of friends who helped me gut my house and load garbage onto the street. 

I'm thankful for my friends and family through that tough time. I'm also happy to be a part of a great department that is ready for disasters like hurricanes and high water. 

Story sponsored by Eric Schwartz and Transcend Capital 

Saving Sheltered Pines' 

By Claudia Kahl

I was on Captiva Island helping a friend get a few properties ready for the storm by getting boats out of the water and such. I kept my eye on the radar. I was not expecting the storm to take a turn. However, my storm intuition was telling me to be prepared. At this point, I knew the storm was unprecedented and that I was one of the few people on the island, so I started documenting the day with my GoPro and Nikon camera. I created as much content as I could release with the limited internet connection. I was in the eye of the storm. I was going live and sharing captivating moments. I received so many messages from people who had their best memories on Captiva Island, whether they were property owners or couples who got married 20 years ago on the island. 

People were worried about me. They sent prayers and love and asked if I was OK. One of those people was Bronwyn Bergen, a well-known Captiva resident who shared my stories on Twitter. She spotted my location on the island and reached out to me. She said I was two doors away from her house and asked that, if it was safe, would I check on her property. So I did and I took videos and pictures of her beautiful property that held strong. For them to be out of town, but be able to see their property when there was no news out there yet, was an amazing feeling. I realized I wanted to help as many people as I could with visual relief. Words from Bronwyn Bergen: “ OUR HOUSE IS STILL STANDING after surviving Ian. It looks pretty good. Our boat made it even though the dock blew away. I want to thank Kalan Admire for the photos and videos of our property while braving the storm. Words can not express how thankful we are to get a glimpse of the damage. We are counting our blessings, as so many people lost their homes or lives." 

The organic following that was created by the content I was releasing was magnified by Browyn’s beautiful words on her Twitter post. From that point, anybody who was connected with Captiva started to reach out to me - from people who got married at the Chapel by the Sea, to relatives who had beloved ones buried at the Chapel by the Sea Captiva cemetery, hoping that their family's memorial headstones were not washed away with the storm surge.

A week or so later, another prominent Captiva resident reached out to me from Chicago. Dina Mansour offered a jet ski and hurricane-ready jeep to continue the good work we were accomplishing. At this point, the bridge was still down and the only way to get to the island was by helicopter or vessel. This was a major turning point for me to continue this journey. From there my partner Maral joined me on daily expeditions to Captiva. There were so many messages coming through. She was filtering the messages and pinpointing the places and the properties that were being requested to receive visuals. The owner of Serenity, one of my favorite properties, messaged me once again with the simple request to flip off the main breaker to the house, because they were going to roll power on Captiva and that creates a risk of fire.

One of our most lasting memories was the day that Maral and I worked hand and hand together to deliver cases of water to workers. We visited the Chapel by the Sea, as many people requested the visuals of the iconic historic place. It was absolutely an emotional experience for both Maral and me as we walked through the cemetery with caution of the headstones covered by sand. We cleared headstones and paid our respects by reading some of the quotes. One that made us smile was David Lawrence Viglione's headstone, “ When I walk with you I feel as if I have a flower in my buttonhole."  Ian affected so many people’s lives and their homes. And it definitely affected me emotionally as Captiva is where I caught my first wave right in front of the Tween Waters resort. If you are wondering why I was so passionate about Ian, is because an unprecedented storm equals unprecedented surf. I can truly say it was the best wave I have ever seen on Captiva. An Ian surf session was logged.

Story sponsored By Jennifer and Ralph Garramone

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