Hurricane Ian shredded the roof of a Port Charlotte intensive care unit, flooding the hospital ward and turning a stairwell into a waterfall.
In Fort Myers, a 10-foot storm surge tossed cars around like bath toys and left them "smashed up in the street."
The catastrophic hurricane turned cities into lakes and left a trail of destruction that defies imagination.
These are some of the stories emerging from Florida's battered west coast:
'Cars are everywhere, smashed up in the street'
Scott Carlos thought he would be safe from flooding in his fourth-floor condo. He was wrong.
Ian hurled 10-foot storm surges toward his Fort Myers home, submerging large swaths of his neighborhood.
"We actually had water coming into my fourth-story condo, just from the spray ... and waves crashing into the building," Carlos said.
"The whole parking lot is completely destroyed."
At one point, he said, the water was "at least 10 feet high on the east side of us, which is right across the street from the beach."
As he surveyed his neighborhood after the storm, he noticed "debris everywhere."
"Everyone's garages basically just gave out," Carlos said. "Cars are everywhere, smashed up in the street. Most of them actually went across the street."
Stranded residents are plucked from rooftops
The need for air rescue was so urgent that members of the Coast Guard started saving residents while Ian was still hammering the area.
"We didn't even wait for the passage of the storm last night. We had helicopters in the air," Coast Guard Rear Adm. Brendan McPherson said Thursday.
"We rescued 13 people along the coast between Fort Myers and St. Petersburg."
That number could pale in comparison to the number of people who still need to be saved Thursday.
"We're gearing up for what's going to be a very busy day of search and rescue," McPherson said. "We currently have an aircraft in the air with the Florida National Guard actively pulling people off of roofs in Fort Myers."
A TV reporter saves a driver trapped in floodwater
Tony Atkins of CNN affiliate WESH was reporting in Orlando when a driver tried to cross a submerged road Thursday morning.
It didn't work. The rapidly rising floodwater inundated the woman's car and threatened to wash it away.
"This car eventually got stuck, then I saw a hand come out. I heard, 'Help!'" Atkins said.
He looked around for alligators, downed power lines and any first responder who could rescue the woman. "But no one was there," he said. "It was so dark."
So Atkins jumped into the floodwater swirling around the woman's car and carried her away on his back.
"She didn't seem too concerned about the car," Atkins said. "But she was very concerned and had to get to work, where she worked as a nurse. Saving lives was obviously top of mind for her, trying to get to work (during) this hurricane."
A river pier gets hurled blocks inland
Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson said Ian was the worst storm he's ever seen.
"I'm standing on a floating cement dock in the river district of downtown. The problem is, this dock is two blocks away from the river in a middle of an intersection," Anderson told CNN on Thursday.
"This thing weighs a ton. That's how powerful the water was last night."
A hospital ICU loses part of its roof
The medical staff at a Port Charlotte intensive care unit expected a strong storm, but nothing so catastrophic.
"We had about 160 patients in house and our roof blew off -- part of the roof above the ICU," said Dr. Birgit Bodine, an internal medicine specialist.
We had torrential rains coming in, which then went down the stairwell, which then went onto other floors."
Staff members waded through murky water moving patients to a safer part of the building. Some rooms built for two people were suddenly housing three or four, Bodine said.
She said the air conditioning is not working, but backup generators have enabled all other vital systems at the hospital to keep running.
"Luckily, everybody's doing good and actually, surprisingly, in decent spirits because they can see that we're trying the best we can with what we have," she said.
'This was a totally different hurricane'
Even longtime Floridians hardened by decades of hurricanes couldn't believe Ian's destruction.
"This was a totally different hurricane," Collier County Commissioner Rick LoCastro said.
He said the storm surge topped 12 feet in parts of his district, including Marco Island and Naples.
"I had survived Irma and other hurricanes that were much more about the wind and yes, always water," LoCastro said.
"But storm surge is something that we have not seen here -- to this intensity -- ever."
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