Alice and Jerry Argo got married last year.
Last night, Hurricane Ian made her a widow.
“It happened… so quick,” she told The Daily Beast on Friday. “It’s just like a slap in the face, to lose your husband that quick.”
As torrential rain and relentless winds battered Florida on Thursday, Alice, 72, and Jerry, 67, realized they were in trouble. Ian was hammering their two-bedroom, one-bath home in New Smyrna Beach, and the surrounding streets were flooded waist-high, rendering the area inaccessible to regular emergency vehicles. So Alice and Jerry, who was disabled, were put on a waiting list to be rescued by crews using high-water Bearcats to save stranded residents.
Before long, the floodwaters burst into the couple’s home, swiftly reaching knee-level and continuing to rise. The two hurried to round up their pets—a cat, three dogs, two cockatiels, and a parrot—and tried to grab whatever they could. While Alice was in the other room, Jerry suddenly slipped from the stool he was sitting on, falling to the floor and becoming completely submerged except for his head, she told The Daily Beast.
“He said, ‘Alice, help me,’” she recalled. “I couldn’t get him up, he weighs 250 pounds. So I propped up his head with a pillow, and he said, ‘Call 911.’ He was laying in the water from 9 o’clock to 10 o’clock, and the paramedics [hadn’t gotten] there.”
The water kept going up, and Alice said Jerry cried out, “I’m going to end up drowning!”
“I said, ‘They’re coming, they’re coming,’” Alice continued. I called four more times, and he goes, ‘I’m dying.’ I said, ‘No, you’re not.’ And then he went silent and slipped under the water.”
Help finally arrived at around 10:30 p.m., according to Alice. But rescuers were unable to revive Jerry and he was pronounced dead on the scene, according to authorities, who have not yet publicly identified him.
Jerry had been laying in the water for more than 90 minutes by then. Alice said she told this to the emergency responders, who pulled a submerged coffee table up above the waterline and laid Jerry down on it in the kitchen while Alice waited in the other room.
“They gave him oxygen, CPR, shock treatment,” Alice said. “They worked on him for maybe an hour, and then they come in and give me a hug. And I said, ‘What’s that for?’ They said, ‘We’re sorry for your loss.’ I said, ‘What?’ And they said, ‘Your husband died.’”
The cause of death was drowning, the Florida Medical Examiners Commission confirmed Friday.
Thousands of people across the state lost homes, loved ones, and all of their worldly possessions in the ferocious Category 4 hurricane. As of Friday, Florida authorities say they are reviewing 21 deaths statewide as potentially attributable to Hurricane Ian. That figure is expected to climb as rescue and salvage crews are able to access more and more affected areas, such as the hard-hit barrier islands of Captiva and Sanibel, which were inundated with water in what Gov. Ron DeSantis called a “biblical storm surge.” In Lee County, emergency responders happened upon a scene similar to the one in which Argo lost his life, according to Kevin Guthrie, Florida’s emergency management director.
“Let me paint the picture for you,” Guthrie said at a press conference. “The water was up over the rooftop but we had a Coast Guard rescue swimmer swim down into it and he could identify what appeared to be human remains. We do not know exactly how many… until the water recedes and we have the special equipment to get in there.”
Jerry, who was retired, “did a lot of griping, but he tried to help out people,” Alice’s daughter, Lisa Mackey Mitchell, told The Daily Beast, describing her mom’s husband as an eager church volunteer who brought food to the needy and mowed his neighbors’ lawns.
“My mom lost everything, and now she has no one,” Mackey Mitchell said. “She lost her home, her husband. Everything.”
Alice, who badly injured her back in the ordeal, was taken to a local storm shelter with two of their three dogs, according to her daughter. The third was rescued separately by a responding deputy, who took it to an animal shelter, although Alice isn’t sure which one. On Friday, she managed to get to her daughter’s place, which has suffered extensive damage of its own and is presently without power and utilities.
“She has no money until the 3rd, and the money that she gets from her retirement is not even enough for her to get by,” Mackey Mitchell said, noting that she is struggling financially, as well.
Medical workers told Alice that her injured leg was becoming infected, but Mackey Mitchell said neither she nor her mom had enough cash on hand for antibiotic ointment, among other necessities. Alice does have some money stashed away inside her now-ruined home, according to her daughter. However, she said she can’t get anywhere near the structure since the area is so badly flooded.
“My mom doesn’t have anything,” Mackey Mitchell went on. “Clothes, furniture, electronics, nothing. Everything’s all saturated with water. She probably lost her three birds, we can’t even get in there to see if they’re alive. She had a beautiful cat, we don’t even know if it’s alive… Me and my boyfriend, we tried to go over there and there’s no way to get near the place.”
Tracking down her third dog will come next for Alice, along with calls to FEMA and any other federal or state authorities in a position to assist.
In the meanwhile, Alice said she’ll keep going, the way her husband would have wanted it.
“I’ve just got to be tough, hang in there, keep my chin up for him, and do the best that I can,” she said. “[The paramedics] wouldn’t let me go in the kitchen and give him a kiss goodbye, and tell him I loved him. But he knows I still love him. I’m going to miss him. Gonna leave my wedding ring on, that’ll keep me cheered up.”
On Friday afternoon, Ian made a second landfall near Georgetown, South Carolina, as a Category 1 storm with 85 mph winds. The National Weather Service is now warning residents about deadly storm surges and flash flooding, with low-lying areas such as Charleston, South Carolina said to be particularly vulnerable. The storm is forecast to move inland across eastern South Carolina and central North Carolina tonight, and is expected to dissipate over western North Carolina or Virginia by late Saturday.
— With reporting by Michael Daly
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