Michael Ross, of Naples, was in Bonita Springs when Hurricane Ian plowed through, leading him to save a cat from drowning at a nearby flooding home and prompting thousands of dollars in donations.
As Hurricane Ian arrived, Ross, 29, was with his family, he said. That’s when he saw the endangered kitten.
Ross lives with his girlfriend, Megan Cruz Scavo, in a low-lying area in Naples, in an older home.
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"We expected it to be flooded out, so we evacuated there to Bonita beach where my parents live, right on the beach," Ross said. "We were there when storm surge was up about 6 feet."
Ross said he and his family looked out the window and saw the cat clinging on for its life.
"I was able to go out there and get it, and it's a good thing I did," Ross said. "After that video was taken, the water came up like another 6 feet. And that air conditioner he was sitting on was underwater."
Ross said the winds and water washed the house away.
"The cat would have surely died," Ross said.
The Ross family hasn't been able to find the owner.
"We've been trying to ... Not sure if there is an owner," Ross said. "If we can't find one, I'm gonna keep it."
Unlike no other hurricane
Ross said he's lived through many hurricanes.
"This one was by far the most terrifying," Ross said. "Everyone considers the storm surge in terms of how high it's gonna get. But no one really considers the force of the water moving."
Ross was staying at his parents' house, which got severely damaged, 10 feet underwater in the aftermath of the storm.
"It's a wreck," Ross said. "I'm in the process of cleaning that up and getting everything done with insurance or whatever, and my parents' house is unlivable for probably the next several months."
Ross said he and his family expected the hurricane to be "bad, but not quite as devastating."
"It's like something you see on TV, and you never think it'll happen to you until it does," Ross said. "It's like, your life changes."
Video goes viral
Ross didn't know Cruz Scavo posted the video on social media until he had the slightest internet coverage, he said.
"My mom sent her the video," Ross said. "She wasn't even there at the time ... My girlfriend wasn't."
Then, the video went viral.
— Megan Cruz Scavo (@MeganScavo) September 28, 2022
"As soon as I started to get a little bit of internet, everyone's like, 'Oh, you're going viral,'" Ross said. "I wasn't expecting it at all. And so it's just a kind of a surprise."
Ross continued to talk with the Daily News and The News-Press as he drove back to his place from Bonita Springs.
"It's a warzone," Ross said. "It's the worst I've ever seen. We've got the Coast Guard flying up above us and police from all over the country here, not letting people through ... And just wrecked homes. It's like apocalypse."
Funding animal rescue
Ross said they didn't seek attention with the video.
"This thing has gotten real popular and we're trying to take advantage of that by raising money," Ross said.
Cruz Scavo and Ross started a GoFundMe page to support displaced pets and people in need.
As of noon Sunday, the couple raised over $20,000.
"I feel for the people that are in a worse situation to put it into perspective," Ross said. "My house was pretty badly damaged ... Bottom half is totally flooded, but it's not destroyed."
Ross said other houses where his parents live, in the Bonita Beach area, are gone.
"Their way of life has completely changed as you know it for at least the next several months," Ross said. "It's just important that everybody helps each other out, I think, right now."
Tomas Rodriguez is a Breaking/Live News Reporter for the Naples Daily News and The News-Press. You can reach Tomas at TRodriguez@gannett.com or 772-333-5501. Connect with him on Twitter @TomasFRoBeltran, Instagram @tomasfrobeltran and TikTok @tomasfrodriguez.
This article originally appeared on Naples Daily News: Hurricane Ian: Naples man who saved cat in viral video helping others