By: Bianca Fenstermacher
Oct. 12th, 2022: Hurricane Ian killed at least 120 people across the state of Florida and at least five have been reported dead in North Carolina. When Ian made landfall on September 28, record-breaking storm surges of twelve feet devastated the region. Several residents ignored the evacuation warnings, opting to stay in their houses despite the warnings.
One such couple was Mitch Pacyna and his partner of 27 years, Mary Wojciechowski. The two decided to barricade themselves into their home at Fort Myers Beach while updating their friends and family on their situation. Eventually, the couple notified their relatives that they were regretful of their decision to stay instead of leaving. The rush of flood water destroyed the bottom section of their home completely, washing away their personal belongings.
Unfortunately, the water reached Pacyna and Wojciechowski; Pacyna could not swim, as the water was fierce. His body was recovered around 150 yards from their home. Wojciechowski barely survived, clinging to a broken porch until the flood receded. Miraculously, their dog Lulu Bell lived as well. Wojciechowski noted that she would have rather lost their home with her partner still alive.
Their case was not isolated; many from Florida decided staying through the storm would be the best course of action. Some argued that hotels were either too expensive or far away. Others noted that their neighbors were staying too and that they feared their house being broken into. Finally, some stayed because they felt their homes would be safest.
The disastrous storm crashed into bustling beach towns forcefully, with the dangerous murky water leaving a trail of bodies and destroyed homes. Experts have noted that with a hurricane, the wind levels of 150 miles per hour kill far less than the flood waters that sweep people away.
In fact, more than half of the casualties in Florida drowned. An official death tally may take more time as medical examiners determine whether one’s death was caused by the storm or not. For example, a man died after his oxygen tank was turned off due to power outages. While this may normally be classified as a tragic death, it is directly linked to the flood waters knocking out nearby power lines. Many of the victims were between the ages of 55 and 96 (Pacyna himself was 76), with the youngest fatality thus far being 19. Of all the recent hurricanes to strike Florida, Ian has the highest death toll. Hurricane Andrew in 1992 left 44 people dead, Charley in 2004 killed 33, and Irma in 2017 killed 84.
The flood waters washed various buildings away, crashing them into other buildings. Homes, and everything in them, were completely ruined. Vacation homes and cottages were destroyed. Some were trapped in their homes where their stairs had been destroyed. Homes were torn from their foundations and moved hundreds of feet from where they had been. More than 600 well-being checks had been issued by worried family members fearing the worst. Cars everywhere were mangled, leaving nothing but twisted wreckage. Interestingly, to save time rescuers place bright orange tags on cars they have already checked for bodies.
The hurricane left a bitter and frightful scene for the residents of the area. Many were left homeless, their possessions lost to the floodwater. The depressing death toll will leave their neighborhoods with a permanent reminder of those who died tragically. Thousands of 911 calls were placed during the disaster, but rescue crews could not reach the callers. More than 13 million were left without power in Florida alone. Ian caused the entire island of Cuba to lose power; thousands in the Carolinas were affected by the outages as well. The impact left by the storm will affect the lives of many for years to come.