A Fort Myers couple had to leave their flooded home and swim to their neighbors’ house during Hurricane Ian — using plastic storage tubs as makeshift rafts to float their 3-month-old son and their cat to safety.
Callie Brown and Chad Duckwall decided to shelter in place because they thought the storm was headed for Tampa.
“It shows how unpredictable the pitch was. We expected it to be so much further north of us,” Duckwall said.
They thought they would be fine as the wind raged around them last Wednesday, but then water seeped under their door.
“I mean right away we knew we were in trouble because it was a matter of minutes that it went from an inch of water on our house floors to two feet. It was very fast,” Brown said.
As the water rose, they grabbed everything they could carry—mostly things baby Charlie would need—and moved to the attic.
Duckwall said he brought some tools and his chainsaw in case they had to cut through the roof.
The water was 4 or 5 feet deep within 30 minutes and reached the top of the Browns’ SUV, which was parked in the garage and which they could see from the attic.
Charlie slept in his car seat during this part of their ordeal, and Tucker, the cat, was in a mesh backpack.
They weren’t sure how high the water would get, and a friend called to say neighbors were able to get to a nearby house on higher ground.
They decided to swim for it.
The plastic bins held the family’s Christmas decorations and were large enough to hold Charlie and his car seat after they were emptied. Brown covered Charlie with a baby blanket to protect him from the wind and rain.
Brown said the water was over her head when they swam and the current pushed them away from the home they were aiming for.
“It happened so fast and I think our adrenaline and like our survival instinct kicked in. It was scary,” she said. “When we first got out of our front door, the current was so strong we didn’t really have a choice of where to go.”
They only walked a few houses down the street, but it felt like forever.
“We had our baby Charlie in a storage bin, a Tupperware bin, we had the cat and someone else and we just held each other and held on to those bins and just kicked as hard as we could.”
They ended up in a nearby neighbor’s backyard and were able to climb the stairs to the second level of their porch, which was still a few inches above the water.
Duckwall punched a hole in the screen so they could get onto the porch.
Brian Yount was inside the house with his wife and twin daughters and was surprised to hear a man’s voice outside.
“You know, they had a 3-month-old in one bin and a cat in the other bin. It was just crazy.”
Yount and his family had just moved to the area from Colorado, and he said he had met Duckwall that day. “I recognized him instantly and said ‘Holy cow, Chad, get inside you,'” Yount said.
Duckwall and Brown spent the night there with the baby and cat and three other neighbors who came to the youth’s house for shelter.
Duckwall and Brown said Charlie was unfazed by the experience.
“When we actually floated down the road, he was awake, but he never cried. He was just kind of looking around, you know, kind of wide-eyed like, ‘What’s going on, Mom. What’s going on, Dad? What are we doing?'”
Tucker the cat was less than happy to get so wet.
“He spent the next 24 hours licking himself and mad at us,” Brown said. “But he’s alive.”
CNN’s Hayley Wilson and Toby Lyles contributed to this story.