‘Feels like forever:’ One year after landfall, Florida woman reflects on Hurricane Ian

Exzia Witherspoon lost her belongings to the floods brought by Ian

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – One year ago, Hurricane Ian swept through Central Florida.

Flood waters were so high at the Arden Villas Apartments in Orange County that dozens of people who lived there were stuck inside. Exzia Witherspoon was one of those people.

Wednesday, she shared her scary experience with News 6.

“It still feels really surreal,” Witherspoon said.

After the hurricane passed, Witherspoon thought she and her roommate had gotten through the worst of it and were in the clear.

“At that point, there was water in the road, but no one expected it to, like, flood,” Witherspoon said.

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The University of Central Florida student was stuck inside her apartment building watching the flood waters continuously rise.

Witherspoon’s unit was on the first floor.

First, she moved her patio furniture.

Next, Witherspoon noticed water started seeping into the hallway of her building — then into her actual unit.

“That is when we started to, like, panic and try to get everything as high as we could and move things around, so they don’t get as damaged,” Witherspoon said.

Her efforts weren’t enough. The water destroyed nearly everything in her first-floor apartment, including sentimental items like her childhood violin.

She also lost her car, all her furniture and her clothing. The flood forced Witherspoon and her roommate to the third floor.

News 6 reporter Treasure Roberts was at the complex when she saw Witherspoon’s mother, Teresa Jernigan, at the front of the complex panicking.

She was on the phone with Witherspoon at the time.

“My mom definitely went into mom mode and was trying to talk me through it, calm me down,” Witherspoon said.

Jernigan drove nearly two hours from Palm Coast when she got her daughter’s call for help.

“It was terrible, the weather was bad, the truck was swaying back and forth, it was a little on the scary side, but all I could focus on was just going to save her,” Jernigan said.

Witherspoon and others who lived there were stuck for at least six hours.

“There was a lot of crying — nonstop, pretty much,” Witherspoon said.

It was the high waters and unknown dangers, like gators lurking in the water, that kept them trapped.

“It was probably chest level, and at points, it would reach to my neck when you hit certain dips in the road is where I couldn’t touch the ground anymore,” Witherspoon said.

Witherspoon’s family used an air mattress to navigate through the water and over to her.

“It (kind of) was that moment where something doesn’t take that long, but it feels like forever,” Witherspoon said.

Finally, she and her cat made it to safety.

Jernigan watched as Witherspoon drudged through the water and toward her. She felt relief instantly, and so did her daughter.

“After everything that happened, I just wanted to see my mom,” Witherspoon said.

It cost Witherspoon’s family thousands of dollars to replace all of her belongings, and it took about three months for her to get settled at a different apartment.

Now, Witherspoon takes extra steps during hurricane season, so she doesn’t end up in a scary situation like this again.

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About the Author:

Treasure joined News 6 at the start of 2021, coming to the Sunshine State from Michigan.