Survive Hurricane Ian at an apartment complex in Fort Myers

At that moment there was a knock on their door. The apartment opens onto a breezeway which is covered and balustraded but otherwise open to the elements. “I’m, like, ‘Who the hell is trying to hang around?’ Rayhart said. He was another downstairs neighbor, who had a young family. Rayhart thought they had evacuated. (Rayhart and Stebbins estimate that about half of the residents of the apartment complex evacuated the island before the hurricane landed.) Rayhart told me the man said, “Do you mind? He added with a laugh, ‘I told him to come in.’ The water at the outside was now about waist high and climbing inside the first floor apartments.The man ran to get his family while Rayhart tried to keep the door open in the strong wind.

“It was taking him too long,” Rayhart said.

Turns out Stefanie had been a professional lifeguard for years. She told Rayhart to grab a rope. He ran to his closet and found his dog’s twenty-five foot training leash. “She and I ran outside,” he continued, “and I tied the leash around the stair railing. She grabs the rope, jumps into the water holding it, and goes to the downstairs window because they can’t even open their door. She handed the leash out the window to the man, who returned a toddler to her. Holding the leash and the crying child, Stefanie went back upstairs. (Rayhart told me that the man and his family, whose names he declined to share, did not want to speak to the media about their ordeal.)

Rayhart could see the roof panels of his veranda coming loose and a few tree branches falling. He was wearing jeans, in the pouring rain, trying to figure out if he should wade to his upstairs neighbor’s window. While he was thinking, Stebbins jumped into the water, went to the window and brought back suitcases with one hand, holding the leash with the other. Stefanie followed him: this time the man handed her a baby through the window. Then he climbed out the window with a crate of water, and his wife followed him with their little dog.

Once everyone was inside apartment #50, Rayhart locked and barricaded the door. He offered his neighbors towels and a trail mix. A little later, looking out a back window, toward the unit’s parking lot, Rayhart noticed the water level rising from a nearby staircase. This seemed like a good way to gauge the progress of the push. “We were losing about a step every half hour,” he told me. “Meanwhile,” he continued, “I’m texting my parents in Tennessee, like, ‘When is this storm supposed to end?’ My father says, ‘Midnight.’ I’m, like, ‘Oh, great.’ But I didn’t tell them what was really going on, so they wouldn’t panic.

Lora M. Andrew