Beth Booker’s mother disappeared in Hurricane Ian. Booker took to social media to find her.
Then a storm surge swept through the island community, which was directly affected on Wednesday, and flooded the ground floor of McDanel. She sent photos to Booker, a 32-year-old publicist in Naples, Florida, of the brown water running up her stairs.
Booker was on the phone with McDanel, urging him to find a whistle and climb as high as possible, when the line was cut.
“I haven’t heard from her since,” she told The Washington Post in a phone interview Thursday morning. “It’s been 10 p.m.
Rescue teams in boats and helicopters scoured neighborhoods in southwest Florida after Hurricane Ian landed with devastating force, crushing properties and knocking out power for millions. The number of dead, injured or missing remains uncertain. Damaged roads and bridges delayed the search. Authorities have told panicked families to remain patient. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (right) described McDanel County as “essentially off the grid”.
Booker had called 911, the Coast Guard and one of his best friends, a boat captain. She shared the heartbreaking story on Twitter, hoping someone could help her mother.
“The worst thing is not knowing, not being able to talk to him,” Booker said. “We talk several times a day, like, ‘Hey mom! I had chicken fillets for lunch. What are you doing?'”
Persuading McDanel to evacuate Fort Myers had been impossible, Booker said. His mother is stubborn and independent. She had survived three hurricanes on that ranch on stilts. Before retiring, she co-owned an Italian grocery store and gift shop called Golden Dolphin.
“She’s just a force,” Booker said. “She is tough as nails. My husband calls us “the Gilmore Girls” because we talk to each other so fast. »
It’s the “Gilmore Girls” with a twist: McDanel isn’t Booker’s biological mother. It’s his grandmother. She adopted Booker at age 5 after her father, McDanel’s son, died of cancer. Booker remembers feeling loved with the intensity of someone experiencing loss. Beneath that tenacity, she says, McDanel is a softy.
“She feeds the rabbits in her front yard,” Booker said.
In the early afternoon of Thursday, she received a text message. Someone said they found McDanel. But first, Booker had to send $596 to cover a hotel room.
Booker asked them to say McDanel’s middle name. She needed proof of life. They didn’t know it.
“One thing I know is if my instincts don’t feel right with this, it’s probably not right,” Booker told his Twitter followers of the exchange. Several warned her that it was a scam.
Then just after 4 p.m., Booker posted a video update.
She was sobbing. Tears of joy. Her best friend, the captain of the boat, had gone looking for McDanel with Booker’s husband. The service was still terrible, but one text managed to get through: They found her. They were on their way back to Naples. McDanel was safe.
“They have it,” Booker told the camera. “And they bring it to me.”