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‘Mommy, don’t let me die’: Florida family recounts escaping home during Hurricane Ian for higher ground

‘Mommy, don’t let me die’: Florida family recounts escaping home during Hurricane Ian for higher ground

Families in Florida are picking up the pieces after Hurricane Ian ravaged the state this week, with one family saying they lost “everything” after their home’s foundation crumbled in the staggering storm surge. 

Ian made landfall Wednesday afternoon as a Category 4 storm over the west coast of Florida, leaving in its wake more than a dozen people dead, destroyed homes, flooded streets and millions without power. 

The Gutierrez family of Fort Myers Beach, Florida, took video footage of the storm’s damage in their home showing their belongings, tables and furniture strewn about in high, muddy flood waters. 

Maribel Gutierrez, the mother of the family, told MSNBC she and her husband and her four children held hands in a chain as they escaped their home in the midst of the ferocious hurricane in search of higher ground. 

She said they had to leave after they felt the foundation of their home move and the walls start to come down. 

“We were calm in our house until 1 p.m. and at 2:30 p.m., more or less, we came out,” she said.

When the family opened their door, 3 to 4 feet of water came in and they were met with howling winds, she recalled.

“We ran out — my children and I holding hands — and we came to a house that has a second floor and a laundry [area],” she said.  

“The water, we were being moved left and right, and we sometimes lost our grip but we were able to grab onto each other once again,” Maribel said. “And we got to that, thank God, two-story structure and we went to a laundry and we were there for five hours with panic because the water kept coming up and kept coming up.”

She said she and her family members were crying as they waited the storm out. 

“It was really really ugly, so horrible. The house almost fell. It opened up, the foundation almost came up, it all got destroyed and cut,” Maribel said. “We lost everything. We’re left with not one single thing.”

Her daughter Liliana Gutierrez said that when the family walked out into the hurricane, she had to just “focus on where we had to go” and “not think about what was around.” 

Liliana said at one point she feared for the worse, but “I had to pull myself together and get through it.”

Maribel recalled through tears how her son was crying in the hurricane and told her, “Mommy, don’t let me die.”

Despite the immense loss, Maribel said, “God protected us.”

The family is staying at a friend’s house, which also suffered damage in the storm, remains without power and had the windows blown out.

Ian’s path of destruction is not yet over as the hurricane is expected to make landfall in South Carolina on Friday.

Marlene Lenthang

Marlene Lenthang is a breaking news reporter for NBC News Digital.

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