Joy McCormack just retired and moved to a mobile home park in Fort Myers near the Sanibel Island causeway before Hurricane Ian hit Florida last week. Her entire community was destroyed and her mobile home is still flooded.

She managed to evacuate before Jan arrived with only his car and a few belongings, spending the night in a two-story office building in the backcountry. “You don’t expect it to be anything because we’ve never been hit that hard,” McCormack said.

She is far from alone. In a state like Florida — popular with retirees seeking warm weather, cheap real estate and beautiful beaches — hurricanes hit seniors hard. According to the US Census, 40.5% residents of Charlotte County, 33.1% residents of Collier County and 29.1% Lee County residents age 65 and older, almost double the percentage US population. Fema has warned residents to “make informed decisions” about rebuilding in areas affected by natural disasters.

In those days, the area where McCormack lives seemed like a war zone. Electricity and Internet access in the area are still poor, recommendations for boiling water remain in effect in Lee County, with long lines at gas stations and little information. She is still waiting for her pharmacy to open to fill prescriptions.

“I can’t access any of my accounts because of the internet, it’s very difficult, there’s nothing you can do. It’s like living in a war zone,” McCormack added. “I’ve lived here for 20 years and I have no reason to stay in the state Florida more.” She plans to move north to be closer to family rather than trying to get a new home in the area.

Many other elderly people also suffer.

A woman is helped by an ambulance operator before being evacuated from Pine Island, Florida. Photo: Marco Bello/Reuters

George Hill, 81, lost his mobile home in North Port, Florida to the hurricane, while his two daughters, who live in Virginia and Delaware, are trying coordinate assistance and make sure he is safe during and after the storm. They are trying to find him another place to live, but are not sure if he will stay in the area or not.

“We’ve never experienced anything like this, so we just thank God he’s OK,” said Dawn Hill Anders, Hill’s daughter. “We’re trying to be patient and do what we can right now as far as we can to find some answers, help raise money and see how long it will take for what needs to be done.”

Hurricanes almost always hit the elderly especially hard; the study found that Hurricane Irma occurred in 2017 caused the death of more than 400 nursing home residents as the storm cut off the power supply. Half of the nearly 1,000 deaths during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, there were people age 75 and older.

Florida authorities are under intense scrutiny delayed evacuation orders on the eve of a direct hit by Hurricane Ian on southwest Florida, as number of dead continues to grow as a result of search and rescue efforts in affected coastal areas to continue.

Were many dramatic rescues and the narrow escapes of elderly people stranded when storm surges flooded their neighborhoods.

Tom O'Sullivan, his dog Jack and Harry Marquardt prepare to be evacuated by Florida Air National Guard helicopter from Pine Island.
Tom O’Sullivan, his dog Jack and Harry Marquardt prepare to be evacuated by Florida Air National Guard helicopter from Pine Island. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Johnny Loder lives in a low-lying flood zone in Naples, Florida, a few blocks from his two sons and his 84-year-old amputee mother, who uses a wheelchair. She refused to go to the shelter, having weathered previous hurricanes, and he stayed by his son’s side in case anything happened.

Then came the storm.

“It was like a river on the side of the house,” Loder said. “In 15 to 20 minutes the water was a foot deep and we had two feet of water on the other side of the glass.”

His mother’s house began to flood and the water showed no signs of receding, so Lauder decided to brave the flooded streets. By then, cars were submerged in water, telephone poles were arcing and sparks were flying. On the way, swimming to his mother, he found a floating bench to help him maneuver and a life jacket from the boat. He finally made it to his mother’s house, but he couldn’t get through the front door.

Karen Loder in her hurricane-flooded home
Karen Loder in her home flooded by Hurricane Ian on September 28, 2022. Photo: via Lauders GoFundMe campaign

“When I got to the back window, I managed to open the back window and I saw her probably the happiest I’ve ever seen her to see me,” Loder said.

The water had risen to her chest and she was beginning to show signs of hypothermia as Lauder approached her. He managed to wrap her in dry blankets and put her on the amniotic fluid so she wouldn’t get into the water. He spent the next three hours with her keeping her dry until the storm began to subside enough for him to get her out of the house, at which point his son arrived and they were able to leave safely.

His home and his mother’s home were severely damaged by the hurricane and flood, as were most of their possessions and vehicles.

“It was just horrible. Everything is just a complete loss,” Lauder added. “The amount of water that got here, no one could have prepared for it.”