NORTH PORT, Fla. (WETM) – For Floridians, the last week of September 2022 saw unprecedented destruction at the hands of Hurricane Ian, but the effects touched close to home for people around the country. One couple that used to live in Elmira and now lives in North Port, Fla. described to 18 News the horrors of waiting out the hurricane for hours in their home.

Karen Phillips grew up in Southport, lived through the 1972 flood, graduated from Southside High School, and later met her husband John in Big Flats. They still consider the Southern Tier their home, though they’ve lived on Florida’s west coast for a little over a year, describing their home as vulnerable but a paradise.

When Hurricane Ian slammed into Florida on Sept. 28, Karen said their power cut out at 2:04 p.m. She and her husband stayed in their bathroom for seven hours straight, listening to the wind roar over their home.

“We didn’t know if we were still in Florida or if we’d landed in Oz,” Karen said, describing the horrifying uncertainty of what was happening outside their house.

Around 11:00 p.m. when the wind died down, Karen described the shock of seeing streets full of water, her privacy fence gone, her pool likely damaged and her roof, miraculously, still intact.

They were without power for eight days and still didn’t have internet as of Oct. 7, (in the high heat and humidity, “It felt like we were camping, a bit, Karen said). But the Sunday after the storm, they braved the flood waters and ventured out for ice to keep their medicine cold. They considered themselves lucky, as the water left destruction in neighboring blocks, but the Phillips’ home and most houses on their street were spared. Plus, John and Karen were fortunate enough to let their family and friends know they were safe.

The QR Code to donate to United Way of South Sarasota County is in the slideshow below.

“We don’t get hurricanes as often as you’d think,” Karen said, though she said her North Port home is at a higher risk than when they previously lived in Florida’s panhandle. “But boy, they are getting stronger each and every time that it happens.”

As with any disaster, tragedy brings people together. Speaking on the phone with 18 News, Karen said she now knows all of her neighbors and has met many people in the days after the storm that have some personal connection to the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes. She’s also been able to connect with fellow Elmira graduates who also moved to Florida, confirming that they are safe.

Nonetheless, the horror left behind by the winds and waters is difficult to stomach for Karen. The Phillips’ neighbor had a tree come through their roof and window. With tears in her voice, Karen described seeing news coverage of rescue crews finding a woman passed away in a tree.

But Karen and her husband are able to find hope even in such a dark time. She described seeing thousands of linemen, firefighters, EMTs, military, and all the rescue crews working day and night to make sure people are safe.

“Whoever is here, we can’t thank them enough for getting right to it and saving lives,” Karen said.

The recovery efforts will be long-lasting, and especially important because Florida is such an important vacation destination, Karen said. Her birthday is in early October, so she created a fundraiser on Facebook for United Way of South Sarasota. And anything anyone can donate counts she said, even something as simple as a case of paper towels.

She said that any support from her fellow Elmirans and Upstate New Yorkers is greatly appreciated, even if the news coverage of the aftermath dies down. This is especially true for small business owners and “the little guy” who won’t get as much support and funding as larger organizations, Karen explained.

“Don’t forget us,” Karen said. “Don’t forget the people that are your fellow Americans. We need help like anyone else. The tragedy doesn’t disappear overnight just because the news dies down.”

Karen and John lived through the 1972 Hurricane Agnes flooding, Hurricane Irma in 2017, and now Hurricane Ian; they recognize the good fortune in coming out of this storm with their home spared.

“We’ve been married for 35 years. We can weather any storm.”