‘I can’t do this’: Fort Myers Beach woman calls for help as Hurricane Ian’s storm surge floods her home
By Caroll Alvarado, CNN
Hope Labriola stood naked on her bed, the water rising in her mobile home, as Hurricane Ian roared overhead.
For a few moments, the 45-year-old Fort Myers Beach woman was able to talk on her cell phone with her friend Lisbeth Whelan before losing phone service.
The phone call, which Whelan was able to record, happened around 5 p.m. Wednesday and lasted about 3 minutes before the call dropped, the recording shows.
“I heard the water enter her phone and then everything went off,” Whelan told CNN.
‘I’m so cold’
“She told me that her nose was touching the ceiling and that she was having a hard time breathing. It was torture,” Wheeler said. “She was naked. She had to take her clothes off because the clothes kept getting wetter and weighing her down, and she’s only about 100 pounds.”
During the phone call a crying Labriola is heard repeatedly saying “I can’t do this” and “I’m so cold.”
Whelan told CNN Labriola was in tears during earlier calls as she watched floodwaters destroy her family heirlooms.
Seconds before the call dropped, Whelan asks Labriola if there were waves of water nearby, which she was hearing over the phone. A crying Labriola then responded with “I love you” and the call dropped.
Whelan posted on several Facebook groups begging for rescue groups to check on her friend but was told it was still too dangerous for rescue efforts to begin.
Volunteers came to her rescue
Whelan finally heard back from Labriola Thursday evening and told CNN she was elated to hear her friend had been rescued by the disaster relief volunteer group, the Cajun Navy early Thursday morning.
In an interview with CNN Friday morning, Labriola, who has lived in the area with her cat for about 10 years, said she was rescued around 3 a.m. Thursday.
“I saw some flashlights and I started screaming for help through this little crack in my window,” Labriola said. “At this point the water was up to my shoulders.”
“They couldn’t get into my house. They tried to break the windows, they tried to do whatever they could. Then they finally got me out.”
Labriola told CNN she stood naked on her bed for several hours as she avoided the gushing waters in her one-story home.
Once she was saved, Labriola said she also witnessed the Cajun Navy rescue 19 other people, including a man who was stuck in a tree.
The residents who were rescued were transported to a hospital around 6 a.m. Thursday, according to Labriola, who was suffering from hypothermia when she arrived at the emergency room.
Recovery and relocation
Labriola is still in shock but was released from the hospital Thursday night, she said. She’s currently sheltering at South Fort Myers High School with other displaced residents.
Labriola says she stayed in her home to take look after her cat and weather the storm. Fort Myers Beach was included in Lee County’s mandatory evacuation order before Hurricane Ian came ashore.
Labriola told CNN she does not plan to move back to Fort Myers Beach.
“People are like what are you going to do? And I tell them I’m leaving. You can’t get a house here. The whole place is wiped out.”
Labriola’s home has been destroyed, but she managed to save her wallet and cell phone before she was rescued. As of Friday morning, she’s still wearing the hospital scrubs she was given, but is grateful to be alive.
“That was the scariest thing I’ve been through. I didn’t think I was going to survive.”
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