A woman celebrating her 40th birthday on a vacation in paradise with friends was tragically killed when a nail from a collapsing roof pierced her heart during Hurricane Ian.
Nishelle Harris-Miles traveled from Dayton, Ohio, to Fort Myers, Fla., just before the storm’s arrival, Harris’ cousin Chanel Maston told WLWT.
Maston said the group used a sheet to try to stay together while water flooded the room.
“We strapped each other with a sheet that we put on the mattress. The water came out of the ground so fast, so fast. The roof crushed us.’
She continued: “We tried to push off the roof and lay on the mattress. It stepped off that roof so the roof wouldn’t smash us and the roof is gone and we walked away.’
During the slaughter, Maston posted videos on Facebook and reached out to family members in Ohio to reassure them the group was safe.
She added: “We started calling people before the water really started to rise. We called 911. We called 211. We called everyone to get us out of there and nobody came.”
The relentless wind and rain continued to batter the house’s roof until it finally gave way, pinching Harris-Miles and piercing a main thoroughfare.
A balloon launch honoring Harris-Miles took place at her Dayton home on Sunday, her daughter wrote on a Facebook page
Nishelle Harris-Miles traveled from Dayton, Ohio to Fort Myers, Florida just before Hurricane Ian arrived
Harris-Miles’ cousin paid tribute to her saying: “She loved everything. she loved life’
Her cousin said: “She was pinned under it. A nail pierced her main artery. She just turned 40 on September 23rd. She just turned 40.”
She died on September 29th. According to Facebook posts, the rest of their group was able to fly home on September 30. Her remains are still in Florida.
The group was trapped in the home for 14 hours before being rescued.
Paying tribute, Maston said: “She loved everything. She loved life.”
This sentiment was echoed on Harris-Miles’ Facebook page, where she wrote, “I love having fun, enjoying myself, you only live once.” On this profile, she adds, “If it doesn’t make money, then there’s no point.”
Harris-Miles’ cousin’s raw video showed the rapidly rising waters surrounding the house where the group was staying
The Florida death toll was expected to continue to rise as flood waters receded and search teams continued to advance into areas initially cut off from the outside world
A balloon launch honoring Harris-Miles took place at her Dayton home on Sunday, her daughter wrote on a Facebook page.
A friend wrote of the victim on Facebook: “I love you sister and I pray heaven enjoys your company as much as we do. They were definitely the life of the party.’
The post continued, “Your spirit will definitely resonate with us until we meet again.”
Another friend wrote: “I’m so glad we spent your birthday with you. I’m so glad I told you I love you before we left. I will miss you forever.’
The death toll from Hurricane Ian rose to more than 80 on Sunday, as embattled residents in Florida and the Carolinas faced a recovery that was expected to cost tens of billions of dollars, and some officials have been criticized for their response to the storm.
The death toll was expected to continue to rise as floodwaters receded and search teams continued to advance into areas initially cut off from the outside world.
Hundreds of people were rescued as rescue workers searched homes and buildings that had been inundated with water or washed away completely.
The storm weakened on Saturday as it rolled into the mid-Atlantic, but not before washing out bridges and piers, hurling massive boats into buildings ashore and shearing roofs off homes, leaving hundreds of thousands without power.
The majority of the deaths confirmed in Florida were due to drowning in storm water, but others were due to Ian’s tragic aftermath. An elderly couple died when they lost power and their oxygen equipment was turned off, authorities said.
As of Saturday, more than 1,000 people had been rescued from flooded areas on Florida’s southwest coast alone, said Daniel Hokanson, a four-star general and chief of the National Guard.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Saturday that multibillionaire businessman Elon Musk is making available about 120 Starlink satellites to “bridge some of the communications problems.”
Starlink, a satellite-based internet system developed by Musk’s SpaceX, will provide high-speed connectivity.
Florida utilities worked to restore power. As of Sunday morning, nearly 850,000 homes and businesses were still without power, compared to a peak of 2.67 million.
In Washington, the White House announced that President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden would travel to Florida on Wednesday. However, a brief statement gave no details on the planned visit.
The bridge to Pine Island, the largest barrier island off Florida’s Gulf Coast, was destroyed by the storm, making it accessible only by boat or plane. The volunteer group Medic Corps, which responds to natural disasters worldwide with pilots, paramedics and doctors, went door to door asking residents if they wanted to be evacuated.
Some flew out in helicopters, and people described the horror of being trapped in their homes as the waters continued to rise.
Chris Schnapp was at the Port Sanibel Marina in Fort Myers on Saturday waiting to see if her 83-year-old mother-in-law had been evacuated from Sanibel Island. A pontoon boat arrived from the island with a load of passengers—suitcases and animals in tow—but Schnapp’s mother-in-law wasn’t among them.
“She stayed on the island. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law own two shops over there. They were evacuated. She didn’t want to go,’ said Schnapp.
Now, she said, she wasn’t sure if her mother-in-law was still on the island or had been taken to a shelter somewhere.
On Pine Island, the largest barrier island off Florida’s Gulf Coast, homes were blown to pieces and boats littered streets as a volunteer rescue team went door-to-door asking residents if they wanted to be evacuated. People described the horror of being trapped in their homes as the waters continued to rise.
“The water just kept pounding on the house and we watched, boats, houses — we watched everything fly by,” said Joe Conforti, fighting back tears.
He said that if his wife hadn’t suggested standing on a table to avoid the rising water, he wouldn’t have been able to: “I started to lose sensitivity because when the water is in front of your door and it’s splashing at the door and you see how fast it moves, there’s no way you’ll survive that.’