Florida grandma helps husband escape flooded home during Hurricane Ian


  • Peggy and Bruce Zachritz, both 66, escaped their Fort Myers home using pool innertubes.
  • The grandparents of 11 trudged through 5 feet of white-capping water.
  • Water was rising and they needed to get out. Peggy thought about her grandchildren, “They need me. I’m not leaving my family.”

FORT MYERS — After Peggy and Bruce Zachritz, both 66, climbed through the kitchen window with their dog to escape rapidly rising water, they faced a suburban apocalypse.

Car alarms blared. Dark rushing water reeked of gas and feces. Mailboxes and a refrigerator bobbled by. Up the street, a home was on fire.  

The grandparents of 11 trudged through about 5 feet of white-capping water swelling from the back canal to arrive at their front porch in Fort Myers, where they lassoed pool innertubes to a column of their beloved one-story home.

After 45 years of marriage, this was certainly a new milestone.  

Peggy turned to Bruce, “If we’re going to die, I want to at least have a selfie.”

She smiled. He didn’t.  

Photos:Aerial images of Florida reveal widespread damage from Hurricane Ian  

Fact check:Baseless conspiracy theory about Hurricane Ian, COVID-19 pandemic circulates  

‘We’ve never left’ 

To go back a bit, to understand how two retirees end up tied to their front porch during an almost Category 5 hurricane rather than ensconced on higher ground, it might help to know Peggy and Bruce were born in Miami.

When Peggy was in third grade, she helped her parents bail water from their Key Biscayne home after Hurricane Betsy in 1965.

“We have never left, ever, we never evacuate. We’re Floridians, we’re tough people,” Peggy said. “We didn’t decide to stay. We’ve never left.”

Oct 5, 2022; Fort Myers, FL, USA; Peggy Zachritz talks about how she and her husband Bruce survived severe flooding in their home and neighborhood caused by Hurricane Ian. Ian caused catastrophic damage across southwest Florida when it came ashore as a Category 4 storm.. Mandatory Credit: Josh Morgan-USA TODAY

The street in their Island Park neighborhood in south Fort Myers backs up to a canal that connects to another canal that’s notorious for flooding.

Five years ago, before Hurricane Irma, emergency responders came to Plumosa Avenue with bullhorns. If you stay, we cannot rescue you. If they stayed, they warned they could be swallowed up by storm surge.

That is what Bruce told Peggy, who was away visiting their daughter.

Bruce has Parkinson’s disease. He evacuated for Irma. Most neighbors did, Peggy said. The water only came up about halfway into the yard.

Oct 5, 2022; Fort Myers, FL, USA; Peggy Zachritz points to an inner tube that she and her husband Bruce tied to their front porch to stay above floodwaters that took over their home and neighborhood shortly after Hurricane Ian hit the Fort Myers area. Zachritz said she and her husband felt more safe floating in the floodwater on their porch than inside their home. They eventually took shelter at a neighbor's home whose second floor was above the water level.. Mandatory Credit: Josh Morgan-USA TODAY

“That’s why everybody stayed,” said Peggy.

Before Ian, emergency responders rode through the neighborhood but Peggy didn’t hear any bullhorns with dire warnings and she and Bruce weren’t worried.

“We’ve known this home for 45 years. It’s never flooded,” she said.

Oct 5, 2022; Fort Myers, FL, USA; Peggy Zachritz talks about how she and her husband Bruce survived severe flooding in their home and neighborhood caused by Hurricane Ian. Ian caused catastrophic damage across southwest Florida when it came ashore as a Category 4 storm..

‘What’s your plan?’

As the storm unfolded Sept. 28, weary meteorologists grew morose: It was a worst-case scenario for Southwest Florida that was too late to escape. It was too windy and dangerous for rescue workers on roads. To avoid drowning, newscasters suggested vertical evacuation, basically moving to the highest spot, hoping for the best.  

Peggy and Bruce didn’t have space in their attic. Nor did they have a way up. But they wouldn’t have gone into their attic anyways because they knew that’s where they could drown. They strapped on life preservers.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *