© 2024 WGLT
A public service of Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Rescue efforts in Florida are still being hampered by floodwaters from Ian


Days after Hurricane Ian, the water that had poured on Florida is still hampering rescue efforts. Near the town of Arcadia, 50 miles inland from the coast, the flooded Peace River has cut off thousands of homes. NPR's Quil Lawrence went to survey the damage and sent this report.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Victoria Hatcher Washington lives with her husband and her 75-year-old mother in the town of Arcadia. Their house is under a mess of downed trees. The storm surge flooded it completely.

VICTORIA HATCHER WASHINGTON: Oh, sleeping in our car. And we don't have heat. We got the windows up. And we just don't have anything right now.

LAWRENCE: Her car is a miracle. It's somehow still running, even though you can see the mud on the roof and the windshield from where the water washed over it. But somewhere in the chaos, she lost her money and credit cards.

WASHINGTON: He know I don't have any money right now, so he came and bought me gas. And then my brother-in-law bought me a $5 gallon bucket. And then my son had, like, 2 or 3 gallons in his car. So that - I'm riding on that.

LAWRENCE: She's come downtown to get food and donations from a local charity. Washington says her son has a boat, and he's out rescuing people from the flood zone. A few miles away, we find a small navy of volunteers with boats docked where the highway has been swallowed by the river. In the distance, you can see land rising out of the water.

J C DERISO: So it's created an island in the middle that can't go west for supplies, and they can't come east for supplies.

LAWRENCE: J.C. Deriso is a county commissioner.

DERISO: After going through Charley, our community was pretty well-prepared for the storm and high winds, but the flood was pretty unexpected. They're saying it's really close to a 500-year flood.

LAWRENCE: And the flood hit a full day after the hurricane, when people thought they'd made it through.

DERISO: So that storm came in here, and it kind of parked and dumped over 20 inches of rain on us. Then it moved north and dumped 20 inches of rain north of us. And so all that moved down the next day. And there was actually - people we were saving the day after the storm, there were some people wanting to stay because they thought they were good, and the next day, they realized they needed to get out 'cause it was over their roofs.

LAWRENCE: But he says volunteers have been pouring in with airboats, those shallow skiffs with massive fans that blow them through swamps or flooded highways. Deriso has an airboat.

DERISO: Yeah, I can take you guys if you want to go.


DERISO: No problem, yeah.

LAWRENCE: He takes off his boots. He says it's his last dry pair. And he wades barefoot out to his boat and turns it on.


LAWRENCE: We're in the middle of what used to be a commuter route into Sarasota, and it's now part of the river. The flood has made several distinct islands, and volunteers in airboats have been ferrying them back and forth, taking out the sick and injured and bringing supplies to people.

He takes us down State Route 72, where we can see the National Guard unloading donated food on what has become an island there. Then we head up Route 70 and dock where there's a hot food tent and a line of stranded residents.

ANA CRUZ: (Speaking Spanish).

LAWRENCE: Ana Cruz says she's got no power, no water, no gasoline. Trees fell on top of her house, and her family is trapped out here.

CRUZ: (Speaking Spanish).

LAWRENCE: "We didn't think the rain would last so long," she says, "10 hours." Also in the food line is Ana Aguilar.

ANA AGUILAR: (Speaking Spanish).

LAWRENCE: She says she's fine compared to many others. Her house is sound. She's got a generator. But she's just stuck here until the river goes down, which is happening very slowly. J.C. Deriso ferries us back to the south side of the river, zipping by a sunken trailer park full of floating RVs and a Sunoco station with the river flowing right through it. He wants to get back because Governor Ron DeSantis is about to visit Arcadia. President Biden is also expected later this week. Deriso says he'd like to see politicians working together, like the volunteers here in this town.

DERISO: That would be impressive to me, you know? I really like to see politicians from both sides of the aisle work together, and I think it could happen here.

LAWRENCE: That's what's best for the people, he says, only it doesn't happen that often.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Arcadia, Fla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.