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Hurricane Ian transformed a laid-back paradise island into a rubble-strewn ghost town=

Shaken survivors including a famed TV ‘storm chaser’ were finally ferried to safety today after Hurricane Ian transformed a laid-back paradise island into a rubble-strewn ghost town.

Residents stepping off rescue boats from Pine Island, Florida fought back tears as they told how the Category Four tempest ripped away their homes and businesses but spared their lives.

Others who ignored evacuation orders were not so lucky: a stack of body bags was brought to shore Friday as first responders continued the painstaking job of accounting for all 9000 inhabitants.

DailyMail.com was able to tour the 18-mile barrier island for the first time, encountering just a smattering of people surviving without power and running water.

Prior to Ian’s arrival, Pine Island was a tight-knit beachfront community famed for its laid back feel, abundant fishing and lush tropical vegetation.

Today, St James City, its biggest town, is virtually uninhabited and resembles a treacherous maze of fallen palm trees, rubble and overturned boats.

The only bridge into town, the Matlacha drawbridge, was sheared in half as Ian made landfall nearby, packing 155mph winds and an 18ft storm surge.

Cars were left abandoned in the road, having stalled when the storm surge flooded their engines in Pine Island

Police CBP and rescue teams at a boat dock near Matlacha Isles take a n injured woman to an ambulance from of the Barrier Island of Matlacha and St James City

Police CBP and rescue teams at a boat dock near Matlacha Isles take a n injured woman to an ambulance from of the Barrier Island of Matlacha and St James City

Hurricane Ian is one of the strongest storms ever to hit the U.S. It flooded homes on both of Florida's coasts

Hurricane Ian is one of the strongest storms ever to hit the U.S. It flooded homes on both of Florida’s coasts

Hurricane Ian transformed a laid-back paradise island into a rubble-strewn ghost town

Hurricane Ian transformed a laid-back paradise island into a rubble-strewn ghost town

An area manager for a power company, Ariel estimates that it could take four to six months to bring the electricity back online on Pine Island

An area manager for a power company, Ariel estimates that it could take four to six months to bring the electricity back online on Pine Island

That left Don and Cheryl Rollings, who had traveled to Pine Island from Ohio to attend a funeral, unable to get to safety.

‘We’re stuck. We can’t get off this island. It was scary as hell but we made it through,’ said Don, who has a prosthetic leg. ‘That’s all I can say, it was horrible.’

Shortly afterwards Don and his wife were finally able to board one of the dozens of rescue boats laid on by fire departments, police and Good Samaritans.

Another of those seeking a ride off the ravaged island Friday was ‘extreme meteorologist’ Reed Timmer, 42, who found himself trapped when his SRV dominator truck was swept away.

‘I was trying to broadcast some information when I got swamped in probably about a 15ft storm surge,’ said Timmer, who appears in the Discovery Channel show Storm Chasers.

‘We were getting waves up to the second floor, it washed out the entire first floor too. A lot of my sensors got washed away.’

‘The destruction is terrible. We’ve already had a few medical emergencies out here,’ Timmer said. 

Timmer was carried to safety on an airboat piloted by volunteers from the Cajun Army, who have joined the search, rescue and cleanup efforts.

'We're stuck. We can't get off this island. It was scary as hell but we made it through,' said Don Rollings, who has a prosthetic leg, pictured here with his wife, Cheryl. 'That's all I can say, it was horrible

‘We’re stuck. We can’t get off this island. It was scary as hell but we made it through,’ said Don Rollings, who has a prosthetic leg, pictured here with his wife, Cheryl. ‘That’s all I can say, it was horrible

One of those seeking a ride off the ravaged island Friday was 'extreme meteorologist' Reed Timmer, 42, who found himself trapped when his SRV dominator truck was swept away

One of those seeking a ride off the ravaged island Friday was ‘extreme meteorologist’ Reed Timmer, 42, who found himself trapped when his SRV dominator truck was swept away

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at least 700 rescues, mostly by air, have been conducted so far and involving the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Guard and urban search-and-rescue teams

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at least 700 rescues, mostly by air, have been conducted so far and involving the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Guard and urban search-and-rescue teams

Sheriffs in southwest Florida said 911 centers were inundated by thousands of stranded callers, some with life-threatening emergencies

Sheriffs in southwest Florida said 911 centers were inundated by thousands of stranded callers, some with life-threatening emergencies

One resident told DailyMail.com she was shocked by lack of media attention for Pine Island compared to its wealthier neighboring islands, Captiva and Sanibel

One resident told DailyMail.com she was shocked by lack of media attention for Pine Island compared to its wealthier neighboring islands, Captiva and Sanibel

Many in the hardest-hit areas of Florida were unable to call for help because of electrical and cellular outages

Many in the hardest-hit areas of Florida were unable to call for help because of electrical and cellular outages

A Pine Island resident told DailyMail.com: 'Pine Island is your average working people, it's not people with a lot of influence. People have never heard of it. It upsets me a lot because I have family out there'

A Pine Island resident told DailyMail.com: ‘Pine Island is your average working people, it’s not people with a lot of influence. People have never heard of it. It upsets me a lot because I have family out there’

The group were due to rescue an elderly man whose daughter waited anxiously at a boat slip on the mainland in Cape Coral.

She told DailyMail.com she was shocked by lack of media attention for Pine Island compared to its wealthier neighboring islands, Captiva and Sanibel.

‘Pine Island is your average working people, it’s not people with a lot of influence. People have never heard of it,’ said the woman, who declined to give her name .’It upsets me a lot because I have family out there.’

All the attention is going to places like Naples where people have their third or fourth houses. ‘Her opinion was shared by Lisa Condon, 51, who told DailyMail.com: ‘It’s about time the news got over there.’

Condon, her daughter Hayley, 20, and her grandkids Legend, four, and Laiyla, three, left before Ian struck and stayed inland with a friend.

Her home is still standing but she has no job to go back to because the restaurant where she works was swept away.

She was trying to head back Friday to check on a missing neighbor. ‘We left. We’re tough but when you’re talking about an 18ft storm surge, nobody is that tough. I had my grandkids to think about,’ Conlon added.

Resident Lisa Condon told DailyMail.com was trying to head back Friday to check on a missing neighbor. 'We left. We're tough but when you're talking about an 18ft storm surge, nobody is that tough. I had my grandkids to think about'

Resident Lisa Condon told DailyMail.com was trying to head back Friday to check on a missing neighbor. ‘We left. We’re tough but when you’re talking about an 18ft storm surge, nobody is that tough. I had my grandkids to think about’

The U.S. death toll from Hurricane Ian has risen to 17 as Florida authorities on Friday afternoon confirmed several drowning deaths and other fatalities

The U.S. death toll from Hurricane Ian has risen to 17 as Florida authorities on Friday afternoon confirmed several drowning deaths and other fatalities

Volunteer air boat rescue team search a stranded sail boat in Pine Island

Volunteer air boat rescue team search a stranded sail boat in Pine Island

Major river flooding is expected to continue across parts of central Florida into next week as post-tropical storm Ian continues making its way up the East coast

Major river flooding is expected to continue across parts of central Florida into next week as post-tropical storm Ian continues making its way up the East coast

Although the intensity of the storm has decreased from hurricane strength, agency officials warned of life-threatening storm surge along the coasts of the Carolinas Friday night

Although the intensity of the storm has decreased from hurricane strength, agency officials warned of life-threatening storm surge along the coasts of the Carolinas Friday night

Surge water destroyed the inside of many homes in the Pine Island community

Surge water destroyed the inside of many homes in the Pine Island community

There were emotional scenes as Jay Olivera, 36, was reunited with her parents Linda and Ariel who clambered off a rescue boat with a handful of suitcases.‘

It was the most horrific experience of my life, said Linda, 61, wiping away tears.

Ariel, 58, said the floodwater was above head height, much higher than anything he had experienced in countless other storms. 

‘We’ve been through a lot of hurricanes. We went through Andrew, that was big but this kicked its ass,’ he said. ‘The devastation in St James City is indescribable. It looks like a huge bomb went off. They are going door to door rescuing people, I have plenty of friends that are missing.’

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Ian¿s center came ashore Friday afternoon near Georgetown with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Ian’s center came ashore Friday afternoon near Georgetown with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph

Officials in Florida fear the death toll from Hurricane Ian could rise substantially, given the wide swath of the state swamped by the storm

Officials in Florida fear the death toll from Hurricane Ian could rise substantially, given the wide swath of the state swamped by the storm

After making landfall with some of the highest windspeeds for a hurricane over U.S. territory, the storm flooded areas on both of Florida¿s coasts

After making landfall with some of the highest windspeeds for a hurricane over U.S. territory, the storm flooded areas on both of Florida’s coasts

The hurricane tore homes from their slabs, demolished beachfront businesses and left more than 2 million people without power

The hurricane tore homes from their slabs, demolished beachfront businesses and left more than 2 million people without power

Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said responders have focused so far on 'hasty' searches, aimed at emergency rescues and initial assessments

Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said responders have focused so far on ‘hasty’ searches, aimed at emergency rescues and initial assessments

Guthrie said that rescue efforts will continue for a further two weeks

Guthrie said that rescue efforts will continue for a further two weeks 

An area manager for a power company, Ariel estimates that it could take four to six months to bring the electricity back online on Pine Island.

‘There’s no power, no water, no AC, it’s unlivable. But we’re safe now and we have two gorgeous daughters here to take care of us so we’ll figure it out. We are alive, that’s the main thing,’ resident Terry Smayda said.

Shaken Smayda, 75, stepped off a boat clutching the hand of her elderly friend Bobbi Reichle, 93, who needed treatment for a cut ankle.

The pair endured two days of stifling heat and lived off rations including cold cuts and cookies as they waited for a ride off the island, a 20-minute sail across the Gulf Coast.

‘We thought it would miss us. By the time we realized, it was too late – we had nowhere else to go,’ Terry said.

‘If it wasn’t a cement block house it would have gone. We would have been washed away. It’s horrible out there now, the trees have gone, the docks, the boat sheds have all gone.’ 

One elderly resident said of his home: 'If it wasn¿t a cement block house it would have gone. We would have been washed away. It¿s horrible out there now, the trees have gone, the docks, the boat sheds have all gone'

One elderly resident said of his home: ‘If it wasn’t a cement block house it would have gone. We would have been washed away. It’s horrible out there now, the trees have gone, the docks, the boat sheds have all gone’

In an update Friday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center advised that considerable other flooding will also occur into the evening in both North and South Carolina, as well as southeast Virginia

In an update Friday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center advised that considerable other flooding will also occur into the evening in both North and South Carolina, as well as southeast Virginia

Although the intensity of the storm has decreased from hurricane strength, agency officials warned of life-threatening storm surge along the coasts of the Carolinas Friday night

Although the intensity of the storm has decreased from hurricane strength, agency officials warned of life-threatening storm surge along the coasts of the Carolinas Friday night

The two friends passed Mike Romeo, 53, who was heading in the opposite direction to sail back to the island and see what’s left of his house in St. James City.

‘We were as prepared as prepared can be. We had the house boarded up, fuel for the generator, water and food for a month,’ said Mike.‘

But as I watched the news it kept inching south and I knew that was it, time to go. I woke my wife, we grabbed our four dogs, a backpack each, and drove straight out of town.’

Hours later surging flood water ripped a gaping hole in the bridge and rendered it impassable.

‘All we know is what we’ve seen on Facebook and from a few brief news reports,’ added Mike.

‘I’m a realist, I know what the storm did. I’m lucky I have a stilt home and a brand new metal roof. I’m hoping that saved the house.’

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