PINE ISLAND, Fla. – Paramedics and volunteers with a disaster relief group went door-to-door on Saturday on the devastated island of Pine Island in Florida, offering to evacuate residents who spoke of the horror of navigating Hurricane Ian in flooded homes and howling winds.

The largest barrier island off Florida’s Gulf Coast, Pine Island has been largely cut off from the outside world. Yang severely damaged the only bridge to the island, leaving it accessible only by boat or air. For many, the volunteers from the nonprofit Medic Corps were the first people they had seen off the island in days.

Residents described the horror of being trapped in their homes as the water continued to rise. Joe Conforti became emotional as he recounted what happened, saying the water rose at least 8 to 10 feet (2.4 to 3 meters) and there were 4-foot (1.2-meter) waves in the streets.

“The water kept hitting the house and we were watching, boats, houses – we were watching everything go by,” he said, fighting back tears. “We’ve lost so much at this point.”

PHOTO: Rescue and recovery efforts on Pine Island after Hurricane Ian

Conforti said if it wasn’t for his wife, Dawn Conforti, he wouldn’t have made it. He said: “I started to lose my sensation because when the water is in your door and it splashes against the door and you see how fast it’s moving, you can’t survive it.”

He said his wife made them sit on the table so they wouldn’t be washed away by the water. The next day, he said, they brought food to an elderly gentleman who lived in the next block, and they made sure to get him off the island on the first available boat.

“He lost everything,” Joe Conforti said of the man. “He said if we didn’t get him food he was going to kill himself that night because it was so bad.”

Some residents cried when Medical Corps volunteers came to their doors and asked if they wanted to evacuate on Saturday. Some refused the offer so far and asked for another day to pack. But others sought to leave immediately.

Helen Koch blew her husband a kiss and mouthed the words, “I love you,” as she sat in a Medical Corps helicopter that carried her and seven of the couple’s 17 dogs to safety from the devastated island. The dogs were in cages, strapped to the outside of the helicopter as it took off.

Her husband, Paul Koch, stayed with the other dogs and planned to leave the isolated island for a second trip. He told The Associated Press that a few days before, he didn’t think they would make it because a strong hurricane was raging and the house started taking on water.

Pine Island has long been known for its quiet, small-town atmosphere and mangrove trees. It is a popular spot for fishing, kayaking and canoeing. Now in this ruined paradise, grim scenes of destruction are everywhere.

Houses are smashed to smithereens, and boats thrown onto the road. The island is without power or water – except for a few hours on Friday, when one resident said he was able to take a shower. The mobile home community was destroyed.

Medical Corps volunteers went to one home to find a woman who was known to have been stranded during the storm and had not been in contact with her friends since. Inside the woman’s house, heavy furniture was overturned and her belongings were scattered. There was no sign of the woman, leading to fears that she had been pulled from the house by a storm surge.

Linda Hanshaw said the tight-knit island community is amazing and “everyone I know who hasn’t left yet is trying to.”

But this was not true for everyone. Kathleen Russell tried to persuade her elderly husband to leave, but he would not budge just yet. The couple continued to refuse offers to evacuate. The couple said they weren’t ready but might want to leave on Sunday.

Claire St. Leger said nine people were inside her home during the storm, including neighbors.

“I thought for sure we were all dying,” she said. “I was just sitting in the inner room with the pillows, I crossed myself so many times, I thought we were dying. The water continued to rise.”

The Medical Corps is a nonprofit group of pilots, paramedics, doctors, Navy SEALs and other volunteers who respond to natural disasters and get people to safety. It began in 2013 in response to Super Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines, and in 2017 it began deploying aircraft and response services to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to the organization’s website.