The floodwaters were quickly rising, and all Gary Pall could hear was the torrential rain and relentless wind battering the roof of his North Port home while he lay in his attic, with his face inches from the ceiling, waiting for rescue.
Pall has lived in the community since 2006 with his wife Nora and their Chihuahua, Coconut, but floodwaters had never before infiltrated his home.
“It sounded like a freight train was going right by our heads, it was five times louder than it was downstairs because the roof was three or four inches from our faces when we were laying down facing the roof. We were just feeling the roof to make sure it didn’t fly off at some point.”
Pall said the family took shelter in the attic after water rose so high there was nowhere else for them to climb for cover downstairs, and they called 911 just before they climbed in to ensure someone knew to look for them if rescue ever came.
“I just started seeing water come in through the garage like a wave,” he said. “Then I went out to the living room and it started coming in through the front door. I put some sand bags out there, but there was so much water it made no difference. The house seemed to be filling up so fast that we eventually couldn't find any more high places to go, so we went into the attic.”
The family was among the lucky few residents who were rescued during the early hours on Thursday, North Port spokesman Jason Bartalone said.
Emergency personnel first attempted to respond to calls for rescue during the night, after winds died down, but the darkness created dangerous conditions and forced responders to wait until early morning to reach many others looking for aid.
The Concepcion family sat on top of tables and countertops most of Thursday waiting for rescue from flooding from Hurricane Ian that overtook two of their homes in North Port.
They were rescued late Thursday afternoon by North Port Fire Rescue personnel who used small watercraft to help residents flee the water that overtook large portions of the community during the storm.
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Joyce Concepcion, 78, took refuge atop of tables and countertops at her home on Treckle Street with her husband, daughter and grandson. She has lived in the flood- prone community for two decades, but waters from many storms that have inundated the community before never enveloped her home.
"It was absolutely frightening," she said. "The water was just coming up and coming up. Everything in the house was destroyed."
Her son, Louis, 61, said his home on Mongite Road also flooded with about three feet of water. He was there with his wife, sister and brother-in-law.
"It just came out of nowhere," he said. "The road was clear. Then all of a sudden it was covered in water. It was too late to get out then, so we had to hunker down."
“We threw towels down, clothes down, everything; we were sitting up on the counter all night long,” he said. “We haven’t slept since Tuesday morning. So I'm ready for a hot shower," some rest and to "forget this whole day ever happened.”
Bartalone said the threat is not over.
“Now the big concern is how much rain was there north of here that will flow through our waterways, and will we see floodwaters rise,” Bartalone said. “We’ve seen that in the past. Even though it was a nice sunny day today, and everybody that hunkered down wants to get out and see the community get back to normal. But we’re just not there.”
First responders are still assisting residents in need, but the process is slow. He encourages residents to call 911 if needed, but cautions that assistance could take time.
Officials remain concerned about the danger posed by floodwater and debris that remains, and imposed an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew that took effect Thursday. The only exception is working commutes.
The city has also repaired a major break in one of its water mains, but Bartalone said the water system was compromised and is asking residents to boil water until Saturday.
“The good news is water service has been restored for everybody in the city, but residents need to continue to boil it for the next three days for their safety,” Bartalone said.
The city asked people needing refuge to room with friends or family if possible. For those who need it, the American Red Cross has opened a shelter at Woodland Middle School, 2700 Panacea Blvd. People are urged to bring necessities such as bedding, clothing, food, water and medicine. Cats or dogs, must be in crates.
City Manager Jerome Fletcher said the city was "as well prepared as we could have been.
“Now we’re in the recovery phase of what the process allows for," he added. “We know a lot of you are scared, we know a lot of you are wondering when you’re going to get your services back."
The city's emergency director said it will take months the city to recover.
“This was a devastating event,” Mike Ryan said. “This was a Category 4 — a very strong Category 4 with 155 mile per hour winds; Category 5 is 157.
“That gives you the idea of the kind of impact this city took.”
For information visit www.NorthPortFL.gov/Alerts or follow North Port’s verified accounts on Facebook and Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Hurricane Ian: North Port cleans up damage, rescues from flooding