‘I thought I could die’: Floridians awaken to power outages, flooding left in Ian’s wake

SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. — Millions living in southwest Florida woke Thursday morning to power outages and the destruction that Hurricane Ian left in its wake.

At least 2.5 million people were without power early Thursday, and the storm even trapped some people inside their flooded homes.

Though Ian was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm early on Thursday, its effects still lingered. In Venice Beach, on the state’s west coast, Channel 9 Reporter Dave Faherty said he could still feel the wind gusts nearly 12 hours after the powerful system passed through. Around 1 to 2 feet of rain fell in the area over a 24-hour period, with about seven hours of hurricane-force winds.

In one area of Venice Beach, Faherty could see a church surrounded by water and downed trees. The building’s lights were flashing in an area where most did not have power.

One couple told Faherty that they spent the night in the car after rising water forced them out.

“There’s 2 feet of water in the whole entire house, even in the garage. So we parked the cars next door and slept in the car. It was awful,” Dorene Hosier said.

Now, search and rescue efforts are underway in many areas. Firefighters in Venice performed welfare checks Thursday afternoon on elderly resident who chose to ride out the storm, sending their trucks into flooded areas.

Those who did evacuate attempted to navigate flooded streets near the town of Englewood as they tried to return home to check out the damage. Liam Smith said he headed out in his truck to help those who got stuck or just needed some help.

“(I was) just trying to get out and move stuff, help people get through, help supplies get in,” Smith said. Whatever I can do, you know.”

Overnight, Faherty stayed in a shelter, where he spoke to a man who said he barely escaped his car to make it there after he hit a wall of water.

“I had to crawl out the window, like, backwards,” he said. “I was kind of concerned. It was pretty scary. I thought I could die, to be honest.”

Faherty said the shelter had the capacity for 1,000 people. He saw families who had brought their pets, too. Many were waiting until first light to return home, but that could prove to be difficult with many of the roads in the area still flooded.

The shelter itself lost power in the storm, and Faherty could see crews working to get it restored Thursday morning.

One woman at the shelter told Faherty she regretted trying to ride out the storm.

“We were in south Venice. We were right off South Venice Boulevard, and everything was fine,” she said. “And then all of a sudden, the house flooded. It just started going deeper and deeper. And then by the time we were walking out, we were mid-thigh in water.”

Channel 9 heads to Florida as Hurricane Ian hurtles toward coast

Channel 9′s Dave Faherty arrived in Florida as residents prepared themselves and their homes for what was then Hurricane Ian.

Since Monday, Faherty has been in Sarasota County, tracking the massive storm on the ground. Then on Wednesday, he was in Venice, Florida as the storm made landfall. Faherty said the wind and rain was picking up in intensity.

Hurricane Ian’s most damaging winds began hitting Florida’s southwest coast Wednesday, lashing the state with heavy rain and pushing a devastating storm surge after strengthening to the threshold of the most dangerous Category 5 status.

Fueled by warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, Ian grew to a catastrophic Category 4 hurricane early Wednesday with top winds of 155 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm trudged on a track that would have it make landfall north of the heavily populated Fort Myers area, which forecasters said could be inundated by a storm surge of up to 18 feet.

“Severe and life-threatening storm surge inundation of 8 to 10 feet above ground level along with destructive waves is ongoing along the southwest Florida coastline from Englewood to Bonita Beach, including Charlotte Harbor,” the National Hurricane Center said.

Ian menaced Florida after bringing destruction Tuesday to western Cuba, where two people were reported dead and the storm brought down the country’s electrical grid.

In its 5 a.m. EDT advisory, the agency said the storm, which had maximum sustained winds of 65 mph, was about 40 miles southeast of Orlando and 35 miles southwest of Cape Canaveral. It was moving northeast at 8 mph.

“Right now we’re focusing on west central Florida area as the main area for impact,” hurricane specialist Andy Latto told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Faherty said one location in Sarasota County had already filled up more than 15,000 sandbags ahead of the storm in anticipation of Ian’s strong winds and rainfall.

People were also spotted boarding up several businesses in the Venice area. Many said they are concerned the area could see rainfall lasting more than 24 hours and packed up to leave their homes.

“A little terrified. We did a whole renovation on our house here, so hoping it doesn’t blow away after all our hard work,” resident Sue Spiak said.

The Englewood Fire Department said it was getting ready for the storm by gassing up a huge truck that can make it through flooded areas. Firefighters said they won’t respond after sustained winds reach 40 mph because of the danger it puts first responders in.

“We’ve seen quite a few storms come through. This one is apparently going to be the worst on that we have seen,” Fox Furniture manager David Fiederer said.

Channel 9 learned 7,000 members of the National Guard were activated for the storm. Resources were also seen moving south, including power crews.

>> We have team coverage on the ground and in Severe Weather Center 9 tracking every development of the storm. Watch Eyewitness News for the latest.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


(WATCH BELOW: Channel 9 heads to Florida as Hurricane Ian hurtles toward coast)