US Fla. Woman Reunites with Dad Who Disappeared in Hurricane Ian Flood Waters and Clung to Tree for 3 Hours
Hurricane Ian lashes Cuba, aims at Florida as possible Cat 4
HAVANA (AP) — A strengthening Hurricane Ian’s rain and winds lashed Cuba’s western tip, where authorities have evacuated 50,000 people, as it roared on a path that could see it hit Florida’s west coast as a Category 4 hurricane. © Provided by Associated Press Workers remove a boat from the water in the bay of Havana, Cuba, Monday, Sept. 26, 2022. Hurricane Ian was growing stronger as it approached the western tip of Cuba on a track to hit the west coast of Florida as a major hurricane as early as Wednesday.
As flood water fromrose in her Rotonda West, Florida, home around 2 p.m. Wednesday, Stephanie Downing got a text message from her father, Stan Pentz, who was over an hour away at his home in Fort Myers. He said the water was up to his shoulders, and he couldn't get out.
Standing on her kitchen table, Downing called him on the phone and screamed, telling him to break a window or do anything to get out and swim to safety. Then the call dropped. Every time she called back, it went to voicemail. Then she lost all cell service.
Residents trapped, 911 down as Hurricane Ian makes landfall in Florida
Residents are trapped by water in homes and streets are unrecognizable, underwater as Hurricane Ian made landfall in southwest Florida on, Wednesday afternoon, crashing into the coast with sustained wind of 155 mph. 1/3 SLIDES © the Naples Police Department The scene in Naples, Fla., near where Hurricane Ian made landfall Wednesday afternoon with sustained winds of 150 mph and a 12- to 18-foot storm surge. Photo courtesy of the Naples Police Department 2/3 SLIDES © NOAA/UPI A satellite image shows Hurricane Ian Tuesday off the coast of Key West, Florida.
"The last thing I heard my dad say was, 'I think I'm going to drown,'" Downing, a 32-year-old physical therapist, tells PEOPLE.
As she feared for the worst, her neighbors told her they'd heard the death toll in badly hit Fort Myers was growing.
"I just looked at my husband and said, 'I think my dad is one of those people who are dead,'" Downing recalls. "When I saw my sister, we didn't even say words to each other. We just held each other and cried, because we thought our dad was gone."
She faced that potential reality for the next 20 hours until she finally gained access to internet around 10:45 a.m. Thursday. A text message from a stranger was waiting for her: "I'm here with your dad."
"My sister fell to the ground crying," says Downing. "I just fell into a chair with my head in my hands, saying, 'Oh my God, he's alive.'"
Tropical Storm Ian still pounding Florida in '500-year flooding event'; 2.6M without power: Live updates
A section of the Sanibel Causeway collapsed into San Carlos Bay, cutting off access to the barrier island. Tropical Storm Ian updates.The death toll was rising and residents desperately sought rescue Thursday as historically powerful Hurricane Ian, now a tropical storm, hammered Florida with heavy rain and strong winds, one of the strongest systems in U.S. history.
Pentz, a 69-year-old retired chef who lives in a one-story condo building in the Iona neighborhood of Lee County, was constantly in contact with his daughter as the hurricane approached. At first he put down towels when the water started seeping into his home. But then the water smashed through his sliding glass doors. Within one hour, it rose 6 ft. inside his home. The water was rushing at him from both sides, and he couldn't get out of the house, he told his daughter over text message. Downing called him.
"He told me on the phone, 'I'm scared I'm going to drown if I get out.' Because he said the tide was just so fast," she explains. "I said, 'You need to get out now. Swim!'"
Hurricane Ian veers toward Carolinas after pummeling Florida
Hurricane Ian veers toward Carolinas after pummeling FloridaFORT MYERS, Fla. (Reuters) - A resurgent Hurricane Ian barreled north on Friday toward a second landfall in South Carolina, a day after carving a path of destruction across central Florida that left rescue crews racing to reach trapped residents along the state's Gulf Coast.
"I'm standing on my kitchen table screaming," she remembers. "My husband's screaming in the back, 'Grab your meat mallet and smash open a window.' And then the line went dead."
As Downing feared for the worst, Pentz jumped into action: he clung to the tops of his window blinds, dove through an opening and swam over his car in the direction of the two-story building next door.
Pentz swallowed water. "He thought, 'Okay, this is it. I am going to drown,'" Downing says.
He couldn't fight the current, so he let it take him. Then the water slammed him into a palm tree, where Pentz — who recently had a hip replacement — clung for his life for three hours.
"He hooked his arms and his legs around the tree branches and just held on," Downing says.
As the sun began to set, Pentz was able to put his feet on the ground. He waded to a nearby house and huddled between the screen and the front door.
At dawn, he waded though knee-deep water. Next, the barefoot man walked a few miles to the Publix grocery store where he works part time. A stranger there helped him get word to his daughter.
Within hours, Downing's sister was able to pick up her dad and take him to their mother's house.
South Carolina braces for deadly Hurricane Ian to make landfall within HOURS bringing 85mph winds
Scores of residents in Charleston, watching the devastation that Hurricane Ian brought to Florida on television, have fled the city in a steady stream of vehicles and are heading for higher ground. Hurricane Ian, now a Category 1 storm with 85mph sustained winds, is expected to hit the low-lying city at about 2pm ET today, bringing with it 'life-threatening' storm surges and floods, the National Hurricane Center said in its latest update.
"I walked in and my stepdad told my kids, 'Someone special is here,'" Downing says. "I saw my dad sitting in a chair and I'm just like, 'Oh my God!'"
"I put my head on his chest," she continues. "I looked at him and said, 'Hey Michael Phelps. You did some swimming, huh?' I said, 'I feel like I'm looking at a ghost.' And he was like, 'I feel like I should be dead.'"
Pentz's condo is unrecognizable, his beloved record collection is smashed and his golf clubs are gone, but they're keeping it all in perspective.
"He is truly a survivor, and I am just so grateful," she.
"We're just staying positive and knowing that people, not property, is what matters," says Downing, who is staying at a St. Petersburg hotel with her dad and helping him with calls to FEMA, the Red Cross and his insurance company. She also launched acampaign after people asked how they can help her dad get back on his feet.
"We've been through Hurricane Charley [in 2004], we know that we can rebuild," she tells PEOPLE. "We know that we're a community. We know that we're strong and everyone is there for each other."
"We hadn't even met some of our neighbors before, but now we're like best friends," she adds. "We're like, 'What do you need? Do you need us? Where's my chainsaw? Let me chainsaw my tree off your house.'"
Fla. Woman Reunites with Dad Who Disappeared in Hurricane Ian Flood Waters and Clung to Tree for 3 Hours
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"Our community is really strong," she continues. "That's what gives me hope."
Hurricane Ianas an "extremely dangerous" Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 150 mph on Wednesday just after 3 p.m. local time, near Cayo Costa, Fla., according to the .
By Thursday morning, more than 2.5 million people in Florida wereas a result of the widespread devastation caused by the storm, which snapped apart trees, leveled homes and tore down power lines across the coastline.
Storm surges reached nearly 7 ft. high in areas like Fort Myers, while 12 ft. water levels were recorded in Naples.
"We've never seen storm surge of this magnitude," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters Friday. "The amount of water that's been rising, and will likely continue to rise today even as the storm is passing, is basically a 500-year flooding event."
RELATED VIDEO: Hurricane Ian is Described as a '500-Year Flooding Event'
At least 67 people in Florida were killed,reported Sunday, citing officials. Thousands more were unaccounted for.
President Joe Biden said Ian "could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida's history" during an address from FEMA headquarters on Thursday.
"The numbers we have are still unclear, but we're hearing early reports of what may be substantial loss of life," the president added. "We know many families are hurting. Many, many, are hurting today."
Ian made its third landfall in South Carolina as a Category 1 storm on Friday afternoon. At least four deaths have been reported in North Carolina as a result of storm-related events.
Hurricane Ian killed at least 125 people. Here are some of the victims .
Mitch Pacyna loved entertaining so much that he earned the nickname "The Mayor of Fort Myers Beach," because of his welcoming nature, his daughter said. Pacyna, 74, died in Fort Myers Beach while he and his wife were trying to get to higher ground during Hurricane Ian, his daughter Michelle Schuline told CNN. Now his wife Mary Wojciechowski and family are coping with the loss of their beloved husband, father and grandfather. “Whenever somebody [new] would come to town … he would meet them and welcome them and sit down, have a drink and just welcome to the community,” Schuline said.