'I think I'm going to drown': Woman reunites with dad who clung to tree for 3 hours during Hurricane Ian

'I think I'm going to drown': Woman reunites with dad who clung to tree for 3 hours during Hurricane Ian
Stephanie owning urged her dad Stan Pentz to get to safety after floods destroyed his home (Gofundme and Stephanie Downing/Facebook)

FORT MYERS, FLORIDA: Floodwaters from Hurricane Ian began to rise at around 2.00 pm on Wednesday, September 28, in Stephanie Downing's home in Rotonda West, Florida. As she was battling the impending danger, Downing received a frantic text from her father, Stan Pentz, 69, who was residing in Fort Myers, more than an hour away. He claimed that the water was up to his shoulders and that he was unable to escape.

ADVERTISEMENT

Downing was determined to save her father's life and so she made some space on top of the kitchen table from where she could call him. She urged him to break a window or take any other necessary action in order to escape and swim to safety, but the connection was abruptly cut. Her subsequent attempts to connect went straight to voicemail, and then she lost all cell service. "The last thing I heard my dad say was, 'I think I'm going to drown,'" Downing, a 32-year-old physical therapist, told People

ADVERTISEMENT

READ MORE

‘People need this’: 7-year-old Florida boy donates entire piggy bank to Hurricane Ian survivors

Hanna-Kay Williams: Woman, 22, drives through hurricane Ian to give birth, says 'car was swaying in wind'

ADVERTISEMENT

Downing's neighbors informed her that they had heard the death toll in the severely-hit Fort Myers was rising as she prepared for the worst. "I just looked at my husband and said, 'I think my dad is one of those people who are dead.' When I saw my sister, we didn't even say words to each other. We just held each other and cried, because we thought our dad was gone," she said.

ADVERTISEMENT

Downing dealt with that possible outcome for the next 20 hours before she eventually connected to the internet at 10.45 am on Thursday, September 29. She came across a text message from an unknown person saying, "I'm here with your dad."


ADVERTISEMENT


 

As it turns out, Pentz got out through a window opening and swam outside, eventually clinging onto a tree for almost three hours until water levels receded. "He hooked his arms and his legs around the tree branches and just held on," Downing said.

"He is truly a survivor, and I am just so grateful," wrote Downing as she posted images from the incident on her Facebook on October 1. At present, she is supporting her father by making calls to FEMA, the Red Cross, and his insurance company while they are both sleeping in a hotel in St Petersburg. "We're just staying positive and knowing that people, not property, is what matters," she said

ADVERTISEMENT

Downing also created a GoFundMe page when people enquired about how they might help her father get back on his feet. "We've been through Hurricane Charley [in 2004], we know that we can rebuild. We know that we're a community. We know that we're strong and everyone is there for each other," she said to People.

ADVERTISEMENT

"We hadn't even met some of our neighbors before, but now we're like best friends. We're like, 'What do you need? Do you need us? Where's my chainsaw? Let me chainsaw my tree off your house.' Our community is really strong. That's what gives me hope," Downing said.

The National Hurricane Center reported that Hurricane Ian made landfall just after 3 pm local time on September 28 near Cayo Costa, Florida, as an "extremely dangerous" Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 150 mph.

ADVERTISEMENT

The storm, which broke apart trees, destroyed homes, and tore down power lines along the coastline, left more than 2.5 million people in Florida without electricity by Thursday morning. CNN reported on Sunday, October 2 that at least 67 people had died in Florida, citing officials. There were thousands more who were unaccounted for.

ADVERTISEMENT



 

ADVERTISEMENT

Share this article: 'I think I'm going to drown': Woman reunites with dad who clung to tree for 3 hours during Hurricane Ian