Harrowing Hurricane Ian experience leaves survivor Paine, wife thankful

Roy Hobbs Baseball

Photo by Glenn Miller Dexter, Joe & Karen Paine.
Photo by Glenn Miller Dexter, Joe & Karen Paine.

Marine Corps veteran Joe Paine survived Hurricane Ian spending 4 hours on the roof of his 900-square foot Fort Myers Beach home as he clutched his 95-pound dog, Dexter.

On the afternoon of Sept. 28, 2022, in what he feared would be the final phone conversation ever with his wife, Joe’s words for Karen were stark.

“Well, I’m calling to tell you goodbye,” Karen recalled her husband saying.  “And I said, ‘Do not joke with me like that. That’s not funny.’ And he said I’m not joking. And he said I’ve had a really good life, and I love you “

Karen said she was an emotional “mess” at that point.

Joe Paine, then 64, and Dexter were on the roof from around 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on that Wednesday as Ian’s winds whipped through Lee County. Karen had evacuated the night before to South Fort Myers High, which is adjacent to the Lee County Sports Complex.

“He said, I’m not going anywhere” Karen said. “This house has been here since 1957.”

The House, which they purchased in 2012 and called home since 2017, survived Hurricane Donna in 1960 and all the storms in the decades to follow.

“The closer and closer it got I just really had a very sick feeling and I just said I’m going to have to go,” Karen said.

She threw a blanket, a pillow, a pair of socks and other items into a bag. She didn’t take her purse. She had her cell phone and its charger.

The next morning the couple, who have been married since 1979, Face-Timed back and forth before communications were severed.

The winds roared, and storm surge rolled over Estero Island.

“The water was about 2 feet deep in the house,” Karen explained. “The house was creaking and moving, and Joe knew he needed to get out.”

The water was rising and there was no way to use a ladder, but rather just let the water lift them up.

“Joe tried to lift Dexter up to put him on the roof 2 feet above him when Dexter ended up in the surge,” Karen said.  “So, Joe hoisted himself onto the roof then kept calling Dexter until he swam back to him. He reached down and pulled him up by his harness to the roof.”

Maybe boot camp training at Parris Island, S.C., helped Joe hang on to his roof and Dexter as 150 mph winds swirled around them.

“He is like the epitome of calm, cool and collected,” Karen said of Joe. “At no point, did he panic.”

Joe said at one point the house started swaying. Then the house was turned around with the front facing the backyard.

Joe and Dexter, who the couple said thinks he’s a lapdog, huddled on the downside of the peaked roof so they had some protection as wind, rain and debris screamed over.

“I said a prayer,” Joe said.

Joe was shirtless and wearing shorts as he held Dexter.

Meanwhile, Karen was able to talk with their four grown children. She told them she didn’t know “where Daddy is.”

At 10 p.m. on the night of the storm Karen lay in the high school shelter thinking she had lost her husband, house and dog.

The house was gone but Joe and Dexter survived. They now reside in an 1,800-square foot house several miles from the beach.

On the morning after the storm, Karen drove to the beach looking for Joe. After cresting the Matanzas Pass bridge the scene around Times Square on the island was a gut-punch

“I was like, Oh, my God,” Karen said.

She hoped to find Joe walking up the main drag as she drove down. She didn’t. So, she parked and waited. And waited. And waited. She waited for 2½ hours.

“I just watched all the devastation and all the craziness around me,” Karen said.

But no sign of Joe.

The “craziness” included people the Paines believe were homeless picking up bottles of “booze” from restaurants and bars that had been destroyed.

But no Joe.

He had not walked up the street from their destroyed mid-island home. He walked up the beach in flip-flops despite cutting his feet when he jumped off the roof.

Finally, she spotted her husband and Dexter.

“And I really lost it,” Karen said.

All the Paines had at that point were the clothes on their backs, but they had each other. And Dexter.

They had no home to return to the day after. They put Dexter in the back seat of their Explorer and at about 4 p.m. they left a Naples gas station and drove straight through to their children in Maryland, arriving around 10 a.m. the next day.

As the storm surge inundated his home and he clung to Dexter, baseball was not foremost in Joe’s mind. But after the storm and being reunited with Karen and on his way to seeing his children, it was something else to think about.

“Probably the next thing that I was thankful for I can still play baseball,” Joe said.

The 2022 Roy Hobbs World Series was cancelled, and Joe lost all his baseball gear except for one bat that was in the Explorer.

But Roy Hobbs teammates and friends stepped up. Baseball friends provided a place for Joe and Karen to stay. They chipped in financially. They got new catcher’s gear for Joe. Joe bought a new mitt on-line.

“Everybody on the team gave something,” Joe said.

Joe, now 65, plans to play 3 weeks in the 2023 World Series and may do a fourth week. Joe plays locally for the Seadogs.

If another hurricane approaches?

“Next hurricane, I’m gone,” Joe said.

Cherished Letters Saved

Joe and Karen Paine letters
Joe and Karen Paine letters

Joe and Karen Paine assumed their love letters from the 1970s were lost.

How could those old letters kept in envelopes survive Hurricane Ian and its 150 mph winds and storm surge last year? How could they remain intact after the Paine’s 900-square foot Fort Myers Beach home was destroyed?

But they did. Somehow.

“It’s just one miracle after another,” Karen said.

Some of the letters were sent from the Marine Corps training base in Parris Island, S.C., when Joe was in boot camp. They were addressed to Miss Karen Maher, Karen’s maiden name.

The letters, bound by a blue shoelace, were found one block away by a neighbor named Nikki Barrett, whom they didn’t know.  Barrett tracked down the Paine family through Facebook.

The letters were mailed in 1977 using 13-cent stamps.

The letters are a treasure of a time before texting and Facebook and all the other communication marvels of social media. Young people may not know the magical and tactile pleasure of receiving, opening and reading hand-written letters.

Joe and Karen remember.

Even long-distance phone calls were too expensive for the young lovebirds from Maryland.

But they had paper and pen and envelopes and stamps and the United States Postal Service.

Joe and Karen met when they worked at a McDonald’s in Ellicott City, Maryland, when they were students at Mount Hebron High School in the same city.  Joe worked on the grill and Karen was at the counter.

In the wake of Ian, they thought the letters were gone for good, as good as gone as the 1970s.

It appears love triumphed over Ian.