Hope Labriola, a 45-year-old Fort Myers Beach resident, lay naked on her bed for several hours inside her mobile park home before being rescued by the Cajun Navy, the volunteer relief group in disaster, early Thursday morning, Labriola told CNN.
Labriola’s struggle to survive the storm surge caused by Hurricane Ian on Wednesday was documented by her friend Lisbeth Whelan, who recorded the last phone call she had with Labriola before Labriola lost phone service. .
The phone call took place around 5 p.m. Wednesday evening and lasted about three minutes before it dropped, according to the recording.
“I heard the water go into his phone and then it all went out,” Whelan told CNN.
“She told me her nose was touching the ceiling and she was having trouble breathing. It was torture,” Wheeler said. “She was naked. She had to take her clothes off because the clothes were getting wetter and wetter and weighing her down and she only weighed about 100 pounds.
During the phone call, a crying Labriola is repeatedly heard saying, “I can’t do this” and “I’m so cold.”
Labriola was also in tears on previous calls as she watched floodwaters destroy her family heirlooms, Whelan said.
Seconds before the call ends, Whelan asks Labriola if there were any waves of water nearby that she was hearing on the phone. A crying Labriola then responds with “I love you” and the call drops.
Whelan finally heard from Labiola Thursday night and told CNN she was thrilled to hear her friend had been rescued.
Before hearing from Labriola, Whelan posted on several Facebook groups pleading with rescue groups to watch her friend, but was told it was still too dangerous for rescue efforts to begin.
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 by the Cajun Navy around 3 a.m. Thursday morning.
“I saw flashlights and started screaming for help through that 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 everything they could. Then they finally got me out,” she said.
Labriola told CNN she lay naked on her bed for several hours as she dodged the gushing waters of her one-story house.
Once rescued, Labriola said she also saw the Cajun Navy rescue 19 other people, including a man stuck in a tree.
Residents who were rescued were taken to hospital around 6 a.m. Thursday morning, according to Labriola, who was suffering from hypothermia when he arrived at the emergency room.
Labriola is still in shock but was released from hospital on Thursday evening, she said. She is currently housed at South Fort Myers High School with other displaced residents.
She stayed home to take care of her cat and weather the storm. Fort Myers Beach was included in Lee County’s mandatory evacuation order before Hurricane Ian made landfall.
Labriola told CNN she has no plans to return to Fort Myers Beach.
“People are like what are you going to do? And I tell them I’m leaving. You can’t have a home here. The whole place is wiped out,” she said.
Labriola’s house was completely destroyed but she managed to save her wallet and mobile phone before being rescued. As of Friday morning, she is still wearing the hospital gowns given to her, but she is grateful to be alive.
“It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced. I didn’t think I was going to survive,” she said.