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(Courtesy Hope Labriola)
A 45-year-old Fort Myers Beach resident Hope Labriola stood naked on her bed for several hours while inside her mobile park home before she was rescued by the Cajun Navy, the disaster relief volunteer group, early Thursday morning, Labriola told CNN.
Labriola’s struggle to survive the storm surge caused by Hurricane Ian on Wednesday was documented by her friend Lisbeth Whelan, who recorded the last phone call she had with Labriola before Labriola lost phone service.
The phone call happened around 5 p.m. Wednesday evening and lasted about three minutes before it dropped, the recording shows.
“I heard the water enter her phone and then everything went off,” Whelan told CNN.
“She told me that her nose was touching the ceiling and that she was having a hard time breathing. It was torture,” Wheeler said. “She was naked. She had to take her clothes off because the clothes kept getting wetter and weighing her down and she’s only about 100 pounds.”
During the phone call, a crying Labriola is heard repeatedly saying, “I can’t do this” and “I’m so cold.”
Labriola was also in tears during earlier calls as she watched flood waters destroy her family heirlooms, Whelan said.
Seconds before the call dropped, Whelan asks Labriola if there were waves of water nearby that she was hearing over the phone. A crying Labriola then responds with “I love you” and the call drops.
Whelan finally heard back from Labiola on Thursday evening and told CNN she was elated to hear that her friend had been rescued.
Prior to hearing from Labriola, Whelan posted on several Facebook groups begging for rescue groups to check on her friend but was told it was still too dangerous for rescue efforts to begin.
In an interview with CNN on Friday morning, Labriola, who has lived in the area with her cat for about 10 years, said she was rescued by the Cajun Navy around 3 a.m. Thursday morning.
“I saw some flashlights and I started screaming for help through this little crack in my window,” Labriola said. “At this point, the water was up to my shoulders.”
“They couldn’t get into my house. They tried to break the windows, they tried to do whatever they could. Then they finally got me out,” she said.
Labriola told CNN that she stood naked on her bed for several hours as she avoided the gushing waters in her one-story home.
Once she was saved, Labriola said she also witnessed the Cajun Navy rescue 19 other people, including a man who was stuck in a tree.
The residents who were rescued were transported to a hospital around 6 a.m. Thursday morning, according to Labriola, who was suffering from hypothermia when she arrived at the emergency room.
Labriola is still in shock but was released from the hospital Thursday night, she said. She’s currently sheltering at South Fort Myers High School with other displaced residents.
She stayed in her home to look after her cat and weather the storm. Fort Myers Beach was included in Lee County’s mandatory evacuation order before Hurricane Ian came ashore.
Labriola told CNN she does not plan to move back to Fort Myers Beach.
“People are like what are you going to do? And I tell them I’m leaving. You can’t get a house here. The whole place is wiped out,” she said.
Labriola’s home has been completely destroyed but she managed to save her wallet and cellphone before she was rescued. As of Friday morning, she’s still wearing the hospital scrubs she was given but is grateful to be alive.
“That was the scariest thing I’ve been through. I didn’t think I was going to survive,” she said.