The following first-hand account was taken from the personal Facebook page of Angelika Geerlof, a resident of Sanibel Island, Florida, who survived the terrifying winds and catastrophic storm surge of Hurricane Ian that devastated the island on September 28, 2022.
I nearly drowned three times.
It was the most terrifying experience of my life.
Thankfully, we are alive. I have not had phone service until now. Therefore, I was unable to touch base with anyone. I was unable to call, text, message, or post. (To all my friends who have been messaging me, calling me, and posting on Facebook, thank you so much for your care and concern.)
To say that this was one of the most horrific experiences of my life is an understatement.
We could have drowned in our own home. This was my street yesterday while Hurricane Ian was battering us.
It was hours of relentless wind, rain, branches, and peoples’ belongings flying through the street.
The water level in our home rose from ankles, to knees, to waist, within half an hour. To leave the house required a split-second decision.
At first, we could not get out of our house. Finally, we were able to pry open the glass doors and get out just in time.
My son was able to pull and lift the lanai door; the surge force caused the door to fall on him. Thankfully, he was not hurt, and this is how we were able to escape our home just in time.
We intended to go to a neighbor’s house which was diagonally across the street, but the current was too strong and that was impossible.
We quickly decided to go across the street, to another neighbor's home. They had left the island and were gracious enough to offer their home to us. This was also impossible.
We knew we had another safe haven up the road, so we started walking. Soon the water became too deep and we started swimming.
Within a few minutes we were able to reach our neighbors property. My son Kris was on the right side, clinging from one palm tree from the another with my puppy Scruffy in his arms and a backpack on his back. With branches pounding into his back and arms, he eventually had to release the backpack in order to save Scruffy and himself from drowning.
Meanwhile, the current had already taken me past the neighbor’s house and I grabbed onto Seagrape branches. With my Bodhi, my other puppy, in my left arm, and my cell phone in a plastic bag in my mouth, and a bag over my shoulder, I made my way towards the house branch by branch - fighting the current.
Sanibel doggie survivors Scruffy & Bodhi
It turned out I had not gotten very far and was actually only heading towards a different neighbor’s house.
The surge kept taking me back to the house on the left of the house that was the intended safe haven.
No matter how much footage I thought I had gained, the surge kept taking me back to the house on the left. The surge was far stronger than I, that’s why I took so long to get to safety .
The branches that were tangled around my legs kept pulling me under with every powerful wave of the surge washing over me.
It was there that the three times occurred where I certainly thought I was going to drown with my Bodhi in my arms.
Sanibel doggie survivors
Scruffy & Bodhi
Finally, after swallowing lots of gulf water, and sore arm and legs, I made my way through more branches and got tangled with my legs in some that were caught between the Seagrape trees.
I finally was able to swim toward my neighbor's lanai, which is on the second floor, yet it was even with the water level.
My neighbor punched a hole through the screen and rescued Bodhi, and I managed to swim to the stairs.
Kristopher was still fighting to get from one palm tree to the next and my neighbor then punched a hole on the other side of the lanai and saved Scruffy, while Kris swam to the stairs.
We both thank God that we are alive. It was extremely draining and frightening.
To lose things in the hurricane pales to the actual experience of struggling and being trapped in the surge. 😥
We are now in a shelter in Estero planning our next move in life.We received help from a Sanibel family that took us and six other people to the Port Sanibel Marina.
Then another kind family drove us to various hotels, that had no vacancies, and finally to the shelter.
To see so much devastation and the destroyed causeway is a lot to process.
My home, like countless others is destroyed with little or nothing to salvage.
I pray with all my heart and soul that all my other friends are safe and well.
I will now check all my various text messages and voicemails. Again… thank you all with love. }
Hurricane Ian Storm Surge Damage to my Sanibel Home
Lasting Effects from the Trauma of Hurricane Ian
Update from Angelika on November 30 2022:
We are very fortunate to be staying at a neighbors house, only two doors down from where we used to live. Our house has been completely emptied, gutted, and will most likely be torn down.
I lived there for 11 years. It’s been very distressing.
I am blessed to be alive as are my son and doggies, but it’s still very very heart wrenching.
It was the most terrifying experience in our lives, my son Kris and I both still have nightmares, and our pups will not leave our sides.
I’m usually hanging from the branches, at the brink of drowning, with Bodhi looking up at me with fear in his little eyes, or standing in my home, helplessly watching belongings begin to float around and the cold water forcefully surrounding me as the water level rises.
I remember trying to open doors and windows to escape, but being trapped by the surge surrounding the house.
Often l wake up bathed in perspiration and in tears.
About Angelika Geerlof
Angelika is a Sanibel survivor and artist. Her photography of Sanibel wildlife is beautiful and stunning.
Help Support Angelika's Recovery from Ian
Along with her home, most of Angelika's artwork was destroyed from Ian's storm surge, but thanks to supporters and friends, she has been able to partially replenish her supply of products that feature her stunning photography of the beautiful wildlife of Sanibel.
You also can help support her recovery by making a purchase of one of her beautiful pieces of art.
Below are just a few of the items she has available. You can place on order by messaging her on her Sanibel Moodscapes Facebook page HERE or her website HERE.
"After the Storm" Coffee Table Book
Angelika compiled her own photographs of the aftermath of Hurricane Ian and put them in this beautiful coffee table book.
2024 Sanibel Island Calendar
"Signs of Sanibel" Totebag
I love this "Signs of Sanibel" tote bag, created from Angelika's photographs of signs found on the island after Ian.
To see more signs of Sanibel, check out my post Signs of HOPE on Sanibel Island after Hurricane Ian (in Photos)
Sanibel Island Mousepads
Sanibel Photography Coffee Table Books
Sanibel Canvas Wall Art
Any of Angelika's photographs can be made into canvas wall art in the size of your choice. What a lovely way to decorate your home, with memories of beautiful Sanibel Island!