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Pregnant woman, others recount surviving Hurricane Ian's wrath in Okeechobee County

'I'm so thankful to have my life,' Athena Garland says
Posted at 5:55 PM, Sep 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-30 22:23:58-04

People helping people is the theme of a terrifying story at J&S Fish Camp close to the Okeechobee-Martin County border.

Athena Garland, who is pregnant, said she was sleeping in a recliner by a window. Her grandmother was with her at the time.

"She goes, 'Athena, Athena,' and starts yanking my recliner, and the tree fell on top, and we literally got trapped inside of it, and we were screaming for help,” Garland said. "The branches came through the window."

Athena Garland, Okeechobee County resident survives Hurricane Ian
Athena Garland recounts how she was trapped inside her home by Hurricane Ian.

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Another couple, Jim and Deborah Somers, were in a nearby RV camper. They were also screaming for help.

"All of a sudden it was just a real loud boom, and then the trailer just started," Deborah Somers said.

"Started rolling," Jim Somers said.

"Then we just started flying all over the trailer," she said.

Garland's family was also staying in a nearby cottage. They jumped into action.

Deborah and Jim Somers, Okeechobee County residents survive Hurricane Ian
Deborah and Jim Somers took shelter in their RV camper during the hurricane.

"My wife, she was the first person to jump up on top of the trailer and jerk the door open," James Simmons said. "I got her down and got both of them out. That's when we realized that they (his wife's daughter and grandmother) were still in that."

"We broke the screen out of the window, and they had to help us out," Garland said.

Gratitude and getting out alive filled their thoughts now.

"I'm thanking the good Lord above because we could've been in the bed," Deborah Somers said.

"If we were in the bed, we would be dead," her husband exclaimed.

"I'm so thankful to have my life, and I didn't lose my baby, and we just made it out safe," Garland said.

Stewart Gray, survived Hurricane Ian in Okeechobee County
Stewart Gray left his home and rode out the storm in his car.

Meanwhile, Stewart Gray was just down the road at Butch's Fishcamp that very same night.

"All of a sudden it was a big swoosh," he said. “Thumping… just thump, thump, thump."

He said the winds were whipping over the dike from Lake Okeechobee. Emergency managers said most of the damage they saw was in mobile home parks and RV communities right off of Lake Okeechobee.

Gray said it got so bad that he eventually bailed out in his car.

"The walls would expand out, and then they would come in," Gray said. "I thought the walls were going to explode."

It's a night to remember and one to look back on.

"It was definitely an eye opener to take things more seriously," Gray said.

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