UPDATE: Carole McDanel is alive — a friend of her daughter’s ferried his boat to her home Thursday evening and found her uninjured. She is headed to join her daughter in North Naples now.
The last time Beth Booker spoke to her mother, photos were rolling in.
It was 3 p.m. on Wednesday, and Carole McDanel was surrounded by rising water, cutting in on both sides of her Fort Myers Beach home.
Though the 78-year-old’s house was on stilts, the flooding was surging rapidly. Only the top of her garage, with her now-submerged car inside, was visible. The coffee-colored water had engulfed her lanai and was about to reach her balcony floor.
To Booker, who was in North Naples, it was clear the storm would be inside her mother’s house imminently.
McDanel had knee problems, but this was an emergency. Booker told her to climb as high as she could.
Booker started to cry, but her mother remained calm.
“She was like, ‘I think I made a mistake not evacuating, but I’m going to have to just ride this out and it’s going to be fine,’” Booker said. “‘She said, ‘This house has withstood Andrew, Charlie, Irma.’”
Then the line went silent. Booker hasn’t heard from her mom since.
“She honestly didn’t think it was going to be as bad as it was because initially it was heading toward Tampa,” Booker said. “It just turned into such a vicious storm so quickly.”
Carol McDanel is among many older adults who were caught off guard as Hurricane Ian changed course yesterday, moving away from Tampa Bay and barreling into the state’s southern counties.
As Fort Myers Beach lies decimated, with many areas unreachable due to flooding and power outages, families like hers wait anxiously for news.
Booker has texted — using iMessage and regular text messaging — called, and left voicemails using Zello, a walkie-talkie app, with no luck.
“If she can see anything, I want her to know that help’s coming and she’s not alone,” Brooker said. She still doesn’t know when emergency responders will be able to visit her mother’s home. They aren’t giving timelines yet.
Booker, a 32-year-old publicist, posted the photos of her mother’s flooding home on Twitter.
The tweet went viral.
Messages of support from strangers and calls from national news outlets poured in, but so did vitriolic posts from users who blamed her mother for not evacuating. Some told Booker it was her fault; others said they were certain her mother was dead.
“The thing that is just so crazy, to me, is I’ve been in Florida for many years — I understand hurricanes,” Booker said. “But oh my god, you don’t realize how bad it is until you’re in it.”
But Booker still hasn’t heard from the one person she wants to speak to most.
“It’s so unsettling to know that she’s alone,” Booker said. “I’m trying not to imagine the house filling up with water, or her trying to escape.
“She was always the one in our family who would be there in a crisis,” she added. “So to not be there for her — that’s what hurts the most.”
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Tampa Bay Times Hurricane coverage
TAMPA BAY CLOSURES: What to know about bridges, roads in Ian’s aftermath
WHEN THE STORM HAS PASSED: Now what? Safety tips for returning home.
POST-STORM QUESTIONS: After Hurricane Ian, how to get help with fallen trees, food, damaged shelter.
WEATHER EFFECTS: Hurricane Ian was supposed to slam Tampa Bay head on. What happened?
WHAT TO DO IF HURRICANE DAMAGES YOUR HOME: Stay calm, then call your insurance company.
IT’S STORM SEASON: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane.