This week marks a month since Hurricane Ian struck Southwest Florida and the pain and destruction left in its wake is still plainly visible.
Those who stayed during the storm have a story to tell, and each one is unique and powerful.
But it’s more than a story for Kevin Ott, he’s gained a new family after what he did during Hurricane Ian.
“He saved us,” said Mary Ann Dineen.
“Superman, with a cape behind his back, is ready to go and take off and rescue anyone who needs saving,” Jordan said.
When Ian struck, Ott checked on his family, including his children and his grandmother, Mary Ann Dineen.
“She texts me back. She says, ‘You have to come and get us.’ I’m like, ‘That’s okay. I’ll come get you.” I said, ‘Let me drive my truck all the way down here,’” Ott said. “When we got to the very end of the curve, what could we have gone to her. It was amazing. In water. We just looked like a river, which was really weird. A river in the middle of a road.”
Island Park Road and Ott’s truck wouldn’t make it.
“Without this boat we would be in trouble. I called Billy at my mate Billy’s,” Ott said.
Billy provided the boat and Ott, along with his children, left Island Park High School with one thing on their mind.
“I wanted to go to grandma. That was it,” Ott said.
Along the way, Kristin Millar’s husband was the first to be spotted. He swam out of his home to get help but got stuck in a wildlife sanctuary.
“He was floating in a white jacket, holding on to a boat. We said, ‘Come on, let’s go. We’ll get you in,” and then he says, “You have to get my son, my wife, my neighbor next door,” Ott said.
His wife Kristin and their 3-year-old son Bryce clung to a tree.
“I had an arm around him, maybe I was holding the jacket. I can’t really remember. I didn’t let her go,” Kristin said.
All of this was taken care of before they swam over to their neighbor, Sam’s house.
“He was in front of me while I was basically paddling the dog to keep him in front of me and he was holding me,” Kristin said. “We went in there and I shielded Bryce from the wind and put him in a corner on top of the dry sack.”
To keep Bryce calm, Kristen sang the song You Are My Sunshine non-stop for hours. As she sang, Kristen prayed for her husband and for a miracle to come, and eventually her prayers were answered.
“I don’t remember what they said when the boat came. I just feel like when I got on it they had Bryce who was protected, my husband was there and I was crawling into a fetal position,” Kristin said. “And I just said okay, we’re good. And then we started picking up more people.”
“We didn’t think that we would just drive on as fast as possible and collect people,” said Ott.
But Ott and his children didn’t forget their grandmother, they maneuvered between houses, went through cables and through a storm to get to Mary Ann. Her daughter Kaitlin, her daughter Colton’s boyfriend and their pets.
“When I saw how quickly the water was coming in, I changed gears and thought, ok, my mom can’t swim very well. My dogs like, can hardly walk normally. So he…I hear him going to the canoe,” Kaitlin said.
“Water poured in. But then Colton filled in gaps and a propane tank with the neighbors stuck under our broken garage door and spewed propane into our house,” Mary Ann said.
“As soon as we started smelling the gas, I knew we had a serious problem that we were going to choke on,” Colton said.
“I told Kevin we wouldn’t make it. He said, ‘Yes, I’ll find a way,’” Mary Ann said.
And that’s exactly what Ott did. He grabbed the roof to steady the boat while a neighbor banged on the window to get their attention. And all this time later you can still see the handprints on the glass.
“She swam in the canoe, with the dog, her daughter, her daughter’s boyfriend, the cat. And I thought we have to get them,” Ott said. “So my kids jumped out, broke down the door, they kicked the door open. And out comes the canoe with everyone on it.”
“He looked like an angel. He stopped at our front door with this pontoon boat, got us out of the canoe and onto the pontoon,” said Mary Ann.
12 people, two cats and a dog, all on a pontoon boat, were rescued together and comforted each other while in the middle of Hurricane Ian.
“We thought it was the end, we prayed a lot. And our first prayers came true,” said Mary Ann. “Yeah, a lot of people in our area weren’t so lucky. We can rebuild that our lives cannot be paid for.”
“We’re all so close now,” Mary Ann said. “We’re going to celebrate a special Thanksgiving together.”
The rescued people told WINK News they all plan to rebuild what was lost.
As for Ott, he said he lives in a conditional home and is stuck in the Lee County reconstruction permitting process. And while he waits, Ott and his staff at the Seminole Wind Marina are helping the community by salvaging lost boats.