He swam to safety from his flooded Florida home as Hurricane Ian destroyed his business: 'I lost my entire life'

10/7/2022 12:00:00 AM

The owner of Fort Myers' Green Cup Cafe describes how Hurricane Ian forced him to battle carbon monoxide and raging floodwaters as it tore through his beloved small business.

Joe Biden, Hurricane Ian

Robert Podgorski had no idea how powerful Hurricane Ian could be. Then, within hours, his home, business and life as he knew it, were flooded and destroyed. 'It was just so unfathomable,' he said. 'The next thing you know I lost my entire life.'

The owner of Fort Myers' Green Cup Cafe describes how Hurricane Ian forced him to battle carbon monoxide and raging floodwaters as it tore through his beloved small business.

/ CBS NewsHurricane Ian"Before it came through the door, it started coming through the walls and underneath our floors because we have an old house. The house is literally just like leaking water from the walls like a horror movie," he told CBS News. 

Carbon monoxide fumes"That was probably the scariest moment in my life, thinking that we're not done yet," he added."...I can't even think about what it was like to be in Fort Myers Beach or Sanibel." Robert PodgorskiBut then, water that was once hundreds of yards away from the restaurant found its way into its walls. Based on the damage, Podgorski believes there was roughly 5 feet of raging water inside – he's 6 feet tall, and says the water got to about the height of his chest. 

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Not unfathomable you live on the frigging beach dude, its a hurricane, what did you think was gonna happen?

Fort Myers Beach mayor talks about Ian recoveryABC News' Linsey Davis spoke with Fort Myers Beach Mayor Ray Murphy about ongoing search and rescue efforts after Hurricane Ian 's direct hit on the city. How about some kind of comparison between Ian and Katrina. Dollar wise. What a mess

President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden visit Fort Myers, Florida after Hurricane IanPresident JoeBiden and First lady JillBiden visited Fort Myers, Florida , on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, to assess the damages from Hurricane Ian. Here are the photos:

President Biden Surveys Hurricane-Ravaged Fort Myers, Meets With Victims in FloridaPresident Joe Biden toured hurricane-ravaged areas of Florida on Wednesday, surveying storm damage by helicopter as he pledged that federal, state and local governments will work together to help rebuild homes, businesses and lives — putting politics on mute for now. Every one of them has no business in elected office. Joe and the hoe with two Rhinos you can't make this stuff up

WRTV reporter sent to help sister Scripps station in Fort Myers Hurricane Ian is life-changing for many Floridians. Homes that families poured their hearts and souls into. Pictures, baby clothes, children's toys and more were thrown into people's front yards.

Biden surveys Florida by air, meets with DeSantis in Fort Myers: recapPresident Joe Biden made a stop in Florida to survey the damage done by Hurricane Ian and pledged millions to save small businesses affected by the storm. Did Joe Biden know where he went? He got embarrassed internationally by opec. Being Presidential.

Biden to visit Fort Myers Wednesday, meet with Gov. DeSantisPresident Joe Biden surveyed southwest Florida 's damage from Hurricane Ian on Wednesday, meeting with local people impacted by the storm and giving an update on recovery alongside the state's Republican Governor Ron DeSantis.

He swam to safety from his flooded Florida home as Hurricane Ian destroyed his business:"I lost my entire life" By Li Cohen, Andy Garcia October 6, 2022 / 11:21 AM / CBS News As floodwaters swallowed Robert Podgorski and Jennifer Carbajal's home, the two swam to the safety of a neighbor's second-story balcony with their dogs above their heads."Nobody was spared this storm.10 PHOTOS.Florida Begins to Clean Up After Ian, But Many Lack Insurance for Flooding "The only thing I can assure you is that the federal government will be here until it’s finished,” Biden said.

At the same time, their small and well-loved Fort Myers business, the Green Cup Cafe, was being decimated.  In less than 24 hours, Hurricane Ian turned the couple's lives completely upside down. Marco Bello/Reuters The Florida barrier islands were hit the worst by Hurricane Ian as teams are still working to survey the damage and conduct search and rescues.  Podgorski and Carbajal were living with two roommates when Ian hit. The Category 4 storm caused a nearby river to overflow, and it didn't take long for floodwaters to start seeping into the house, which sits on a 3-foot-tall concrete block. Remains of destroyed restaurants, shops and other businesses are seen after Hurricane Ian caused widespread destruction, in Fort Myers Beach, Florida, October 4, 2022.  "Before it came through the door, it started coming through the walls and underneath our floors because we have an old house. Marco Rubio and other state and local officials, were accompanying the president on Wednesday.

The house is literally just like leaking water from the walls like a horror movie," he told CBS News. As soon as they get done with that, we can go in and start hauling off the debris and getting our utilities back up and so forth.  When the flooding knocked over the refrigerator, they decided it was time to leave. But at that point, the door wouldn't open. ABC NEWS LIVE: [I'm] curious to know what the short-term plan is with regard to two children who need to go back to school and stay local in order to do that, potentially? MURPHY: Our local school on the beach was destroyed as the other schools on the barrier islands were. They had to push it out and swim to their neighbor's second-story balcony across the street for safety. And while they – and their dogs – had escaped the floodwaters, there was still significant danger. I imagine that'll be close to where they've been evacuated, too, because they certainly won't be able to go to the schools that are here.” Before the storm hit, the president had intended to visit the Florida cities of Orlando and Fort Lauderdale last week, where he planned to stress his efforts to strengthen Social Security and Medicaid.

  The water was filled with gasoline from all the cars and boats it had damaged, unleashing carbon monoxide within the neighbor's house. Carbon monoxide fumes , which are odorless and colorless, can quickly become deadly during storms. But as you say that that is long term, it's going to take some time. Podgorski became lightheaded and another person in the house had to stand outside during the storm to be able to breathe.  "We had to open all the doors and windows with 100 mile-an-hour winds ripping through," he said. Although there won't be too many of them.  "That was probably the scariest moment in my life, thinking that we're not done yet," he added. The hurricane changed the purpose and tone of Biden's first trip to Florida this year, which was in an area devastated by winds and surging water.

". Nobody was spared this storm... So, there's going to be a big, big job ahead of us.I can't even think about what it was like to be in Fort Myers Beach or Sanibel."  All they could do was focus on getting fresh air and think about their business, which they'd only had for two years. And I look forward to the challenge of it. He gave a 30-minute midday briefing on hurricane recovery efforts, including news that running water had been restored through much of the affected zone.

  The inside of Green Cup Cafe in downtown Fort Myers after Hurricane Ian.  Robert Podgorski "You could just tell the force of nature"  Podgorski and his girlfriend Carbajal, once regulars of Green Cup Cafe, used their savings to take over the restaurant in the city's downtown in 2020., Sept. It was their dream to have"a cute little spot to bring people in to eat nice things," Podgorski said. And it was – the cafe has hundreds of rave reviews on Google. Rebecca Blackwell/AP ABC NEWS LIVE: When you say there is a big job ahead, where does the money come from to rebuild, to tear down, to restore what the town is lost? MURPHY: I'm sure in the short term, they'll be there'll be FEMA funds available and hopefully everybody had insurance on their properties that they'll be able to make claims on to rebuild or they won't."Exceptional,""beautiful,""friendly," and"welcoming" have all been used to describe the small organic and vegan-friendly eatery, known for its brightly-colored smoothies, coffees, sandwiches and snacks. Politicians’ responses to natural disasters have the power to make or break political careers.

But then, water that was once hundreds of yards away from the restaurant found its way into its walls. MORE: Timeline: When did officials tell people to evacuate from Hurricane Ian? ABC NEWS LIVE: President Joe Biden is expected to visit Florida tomorrow. Based on the damage, Podgorski believes there was roughly 5 feet of raging water inside – he's 6 feet tall, and says the water got to about the height of his chest.  When he and Carbajal first saw the business post-Ian, all he could say when they opened the door was"Jesus. And my message will be, so, President Biden, we can use all the help from the federal government." It was a feeling, he said, of shock – he was nervous, scared and didn't know where to even begin.  "You could just tell the force of nature, the power of the waves, the undulation just tossed things around like rag dolls and paper, twigs," he said. And I think I can count on the president to help us out down here. Chris Christie, the Republican who welcomed President Barack Obama to his state to survey Hurricane Sandy damage just days before the 2012 general election, said that during natural disasters “the best political strategy is to have no political strategy, to do your job.

".. Marco Bello/Reuters ABC NEWS LIVE: And lastly mayor, when you envision the future, how do you see Fort Myers Beach now? MURPHY: Well, I envision it with the rebuilds..Anything that might have been wet that could have survived, was now full of mud, so then it couldn't survive. You can still have the same type of architecture and beachy cottages and all that sort of thing, but you just have to build them strong."  Like many nearby businesses, Podgorski said the Green Cup Cafe doesn't have  flood insurance .

  "Costs for insurance are through the roof. The water rushed through the bottom, blew it out, and the houses remain standing. It's pretty much unaffordable," he said.". If you're going to live on the coastal barrier island, you have to build... And so, I foresee a great future for the beach.

It's like thousands of dollars a month and when you're a small business coming out of COVID, it's already hard to be alive. I was making $12 an hour for two years. And so, I see a bright future, actually, and I look forward to seeing it happen. ...

Everyone thinks we live a luxurious world and our money is real tight."  Now, as he and Carbajal stay in the guest room of one of their restaurant patrons, all Podgorski can do is focus on rebuilding and keeping his employees paid, a feat that will cost up to $20,000 a month. That doesn't include the thousands it will cost to redo the cafe, which needs its walls rebuilt, new electric and plumbing and thousands of dollars worth of new equipment. The couple launched a GoFundMe to help cover the costs.  "Luck" amid the devastation As a lifelong Floridian, Podgorski spent years among those who joke about and throw hurricane parties when lower-category storms hit the state.

Now, that's over.  Anyone who says that Hurricane Ian didn't change their mindset around hurricane season, he said,"is lying."  "I had power until I had 8 feet of water. And we were even joking, 'what a weak-a** hurricane,' and then the next thing you know, I lost my entire life," he said.".

..How were we so unaware of this power and how are we so laissez-faire? ...

I couldn't even philosophize about something like this because it was just so unfathomable."  The loss of their home and business is scarring, but Podgorski also knows people who are among the more than 100 who , including a bartender he knew and a friend's mother.  Officials are continuing to survey the state – even President Biden was in Fort Myers on Wednesday – but Podgorski says he hopes they continue to pay attention to the millions impacted by the storm after the immediacy ends. "Awareness and focus," he said."Make sure that after a week that this doesn't get forgotten.

This is something that literally changed our geography...I'm afraid everyone just bails out. It's gonna be months if not years for certain communities to be rebuilt.

"  Even if it does take years, and even though he is essentially having to rebuild his life from the ground up, he says the community will be OK, because everyone within it has each other. Just at his small business, he said 45 people have shown up to help him clean, turning some parts of the cleanup process that should have taken days into hours.  "If they keep the same stride that we're having this week, we're going to be back up in no time," he said of downtown Fort Myers. And despite everything, Podgorski says he feels like"the luckiest man." "We got to save our lives.

Our neighbors survived," he said."We get the opportunity to rebuild."  Luis Giraldo contributed to this report. Hurricane Ian .