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'They are not a number' Friends and family honor the lives lost in Hurricane Ian

Hurricane Ian claims more than 100 lives
Hurricane Ian Memorial
Posted at 12:17 AM, Oct 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-14 04:48:28-04

LEE COUNTY, Fla. — Thursday afternoon a press release from the Florida Medical Examiners Commission showed the death toll from Hurricane Ian rose again, now at 108.

However, friends and families of those lives lost say they are more than just numbers, they are fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers, someone fiercely loved and now dearly missed.

"She is not a number or anybody that lost their lives, they are not a number," said Danette Marshall, a close family friend of Nishelle Harris-Miles, 40.

Nishelle Harris-Miles

Nishelle was on Fort Myers Beach with her sister and two cousins, celebrating her 40th birthday when the storm surge came through. The four tying themselves together with sheets when Marshall said the roof collapsed on them. Nishelle didn't make it.

"Nishelle was family-oriented. It was her, her mom and sister, her cousins they were like this," Marshall said clasping her hands together. "She was the glue, birthday parties she was the one making it special going all out – that was her."

Marshall said Nishelle's body is still in Fort Myers, the family has now set up a GoFundMe page to bring her back home Ohio.

It's the same situation for Stacy Verdream. She is also working to help bring her uncle, Mike Verdream, 66, from Fort Myers to Ohio.

"He wanted to live in Matlacha and he returned to Florida in 2021," Stacy said. "He was down there remodeling homes living on the water and enjoying it – it was his first hurricane he has ever gone through."

Stacy's uncle Mike was more like a father to her, stepping in to help raise her and her brother after her father passed when she was just 2 weeks old.

"He’s always been a big part of my life and always there for me when I didn’t have a dad," she said tearing up.

She spoke to him the Wednesday morning Hurricane Ian hit.

"I spoke with him for 3 minutes, and he gave me his plan he said he was staying there if it got bad he would go to a friend's home that had 2 stories and if it got really bad he said he had a truck he would get out of there," Stacy said.

However several silent days, missed phone calls, and miscommunications with neighbors in Matlacha, it wasn't until the next week Stacy and her family learned her uncle Mike didn't make it.

"It’s overwhelming to continue to share and do interviews but I think it’s so important because I think the message here in all of this, people will hear this and see this, and the people who live in Florida might think twice and hopefully evacuate when another one comes their way so other families don’t go through this," Stacy added.

Like Danette and Nishelle's family, Stacy is now working with a Fort Myers funeral home to get her uncle Mike's body back home to Ohio for a funeral.