Mainer living in Florida recounts tale of survival during Hurricane Ian

Published: Oct. 3, 2022 at 7:27 PM EDT
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FORT MYERS, Florida (WMTW) - A Maine woman, who now lives in the Fort Myers area, ignored the mandatory evacuation orders, and was forced to swim to safety with her three-month-old son tucked inside a plastic storage bin.

Callie Brown grew up in Skowhegan.

Her parents still live in Maine. Cell phone video captured their neighborhood in Florida being ravaged by Hurricane Ian last Wednesday.

When the hurricane hit, Brown, along with her partner, Chad Duckwall, and their 3-month-old son, Charlie took refuge in the attic.

But the water kept coming, Brown said she dumped the Christmas decorations from a plastic storage tote and packed her son inside with his car seat and a blanket.

Duckwall packed the family cat in another plastic storage bin, and they all floated away hoping to reach a neighbor’s house which was on higher ground.

The most terrifying thing I’ve ever gone through my entire life,” Brown said of the wet, wild journey.

“I didn’t know if we were going to make it to be totally honest. I remember looking at Chad and just saying, ‘I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die,’” she said.

The swim through the water, which was 10 feet deep, was harrowing, to say the least.

”We were in the eye wall of the hurricane at that time so there was 140, 150 mile per hour winds all around us, there was debris flying.

Thankfully none of us were hit with any of it. He was such a little trooper he didn’t even cry,” Brown said.

“Mom instincts just kicked in and I just knew (the plastic tote was) what I needed to grab to put him in for safety because he obviously can’t swim, he’s three months old.”

They all made it to safety. The family returned to their house the next day to assess the damage and see if there was anything they could salvage. Most everything was gone.

”Our couch was on the kitchen counter that’s just where it had floated. Our dining room table was in the living room,” Brown said.

They can spend the next month at a family member’s condo in the next town over while they rebuild.

They lived through Hurricane Irma in 2017 and said they evacuated then for no reason. This time they ignored the mandatory evacuation order but said they wish they hadn’t.

”I will never stay again. I will absolutely evacuate I don’t care if it’s a category 1, I’m not staying ever again for a hurricane.

I never want to experience that again,” Brown said.

Friends have launched a fundraising page for the couple.

They’ve already raised more than $13,000. Brown admitted it’s going to take a long time to get back on their feet.