At this point, there was a knock on their door. The apartment opens onto a breezeway that is roofed and railed but otherwise open to the elements. “I’m, like, ‘Who the hell is trying to hang out?’ ” Rayhart said. It was another downstairs neighbor, who had a young family. Rayhart thought that they had evacuated. (Rayhart and Stebbins estimate that roughly half of the apartment complex’s residents evacuated the island prior to the hurricane’s arrival.) Rayhart told me that the man said, “Do you mind?” He added, chuckling, “I told him to get inside.” The water outside was now about waist high, and rising inside the first-floor apartments. The man ran back down to get his family while Rayhart tried to keep the door cracked open in the heavy wind.
“It was taking him too long,” Rayhart said.
As it turned out, Stefanie had been a professional lifeguard for years. She told Rayhart to grab a rope. He ran to his closet and found his dog’s twenty-five-foot training leash. “Me and her ran outside,” he went on, “and I tied the leash around the railing of the staircase. She grabs the rope, jumps into the water while holding it, and goes over to the downstairs window because they can’t even open their door.” She handed the leash through the window to the man, who handed her back a toddler. Holding the leash and the crying child, Stefanie waded back upstairs. (Rayhart told me that the man and his family, whose names he declined to share, did not want to talk to the media about their ordeal.)
Rayhart could see his lanai’s roof paneling coming undone, and a few tree branches were falling. He was wearing jeans, in the pouring rain, trying to figure out if he should wade to his first-floor neighbor’s window. As he was thinking, Stebbins leaped into the water, made it to the window, and brought back suitcases in one hand while holding the leash with the other. Stefanie followed him: this time the man handed her a baby through the window. Then he climbed through the window with a case of water, and his wife followed behind with their small dog.
Once everyone was inside apartment #50, Rayhart deadbolted and barricaded the door. He offered his neighbors towels and trail mix. A little while later, looking out a back window, toward the unit’s parking lot, Rayhart noticed the rising water level in relation to a nearby staircase. It seemed like a good way to measure the progress of the surge. “We were losing about one step per half hour,” he told me. “Meanwhile,” he went on, “I’m texting my parents in Tennessee, like, ‘When’s this storm supposed to end?’ My dad goes, ‘Midnight.’ I’m, like, ‘Oh, great.’ But I wasn’t telling them what was really going on, so they wouldn’t freak out.”