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21-Year-Old Relives Hurricane Ian Pushing Her Grandpa's Home 'Towards Us' in Flood: 'I Lost Everything'

Woman's First Hand Story of Hurricane Ian. Credit Mallie Critser
Woman's First Hand Story of Hurricane Ian. Credit Mallie Critser

Mallie Critser

As the death toll of Hurricane Ian continues to rise, survivors begin to share the terrifying moments they went through during the storm.

Mallie Critser from Fort Myers Beach, Florida, tells PEOPLE on Friday about the impact the storm has caused on her and her family's life.

Critser, 21, is an assistant pastor to her father, who's a pastor at Beach Baptist Church. Critser, her parents and her grandparents all lived side-by-side in three houses across from the church on the church property.

Although all of Critser's siblings (13 children altogether) decided to evacuate, she stayed behind with her parents and grandparents. "I've lived on Fort Myers Beach my entire life, and we've had hurricanes hit us dead on before and we've been fine," she says, explaining their decision to stay.

Besides, at the time she had to make the decision, the storm was not headed straight to their region. "We knew we were gonna to get a little bit of storm surge," she admits.

All of that changed when Critser woke up at 6 a.m. and found out that the storm had taken an eastern turn and was headed right at them. "By then it was too late to evacuate," she recalls, "We were hours from it."

RELATED: Hurricane Ian's Death Toll Climbs to 65 in Florida, as 4 Deaths Reported in North Carolina

Woman's First Hand Story of Hurricane Ian. Credit Mallie Critser
Woman's First Hand Story of Hurricane Ian. Credit Mallie Critser

Mallie Critser

Now knowing the storm is coming their way, the family sprung into action. "We took everything out of our fridge and cooked it because we had power," she remembers, noting that they also went to the first story of her parents' two-story house and "started putting everything up on tables."

By the time the family tried putting their things as high up as possible, the rain was already "pouring into our feet."

"We were like, 'I don't even know if tables are going to be enough,' " she says, hinting that the severity of the storm was starting to kick in.

RELATED: Hurricane Ian Evacuee, 11, Dies in Fall From Balcony After Family Fled Storm's Path

At the entrance of the home, there are stairs going up and another going down, Critser explains, saying that at the beginning of the storm they waited on the front steps that go upstairs. "We were kind of just standing on the steps and walking up them as the water hit them," she tells PEOPLE.

"And then that's when the wind started," she recalls.

Once the wind came in, the family moved to her parents' bedroom on the second floor, staying clear from the windows. "The water rose so far that it started coming in the front door of the second story," she said, noting that they all "huddled" in the room.

"The other side of the house was getting the wind, so that was the farthest away we could get from it," she notes.

In the bedroom, the family watched the water wreak havoc from the window. "Six and eight-foot waves," she remembers.

Critser also recalled the moment they saw her grandpa's house being dragged in the current. "All of a sudden my grandpa's house was in a wave, and it was just coming towards us," she said. "And then it crashed into a couple of trees, and we watched it just completely, I mean, it looked like it was going through an incinerator, and it just went into pieces."

Unfortunately, that wasn't the only house the family saw getting carried away. Critser says she saw a house from a block away also get dragged in the water. "It was coming at us," she tells PEOPLE, adding that it too was caught on something and stopped moving towards them.

She also saw all her family's cars being taken by the water. Amidst the chaos, Critser went live on Instagram to share updates with her family.

RELATED: Weather Channel Reporter Hit by Tree Branch During Live Hurricane Ian Broadcast: 'This Is Extreme'

"My dad is a very calm guy, and so I was really calm being around him," she explains, "but there was a point where even he started crying and breathing really heavy and he was like, 'Find whatever you can float on. I don't think we're going to make this.' " That's when everything sunk in for Critser. "Hearing your dad say that. I was like, 'Oh no,' " she says.

Following her dad's command, the family started hugging "cushions and pillows." She adds, "Not that they would float, but in our brain, they would at the moment."

Right when the family prepared for the worst, the water began receding. "We started seeing stairs in our house," she recalls, "and my dad was like, 'The water's going down,' and we all kind of turned around and we were like, 'What?' "

Once they all confirmed the water was going down, "we all took a breath for a moment." She adds, "I think it was about 6 p.m. when the water receded to about knee level."

At that point, Critser walked over to her house just to find out that "it wasn't there anymore."

Woman's First Hand Story of Hurricane Ian. Credit Mallie Critser
Woman's First Hand Story of Hurricane Ian. Credit Mallie Critser

Mallie Critser

The wreckage continued in the family's church, which had been housing 12 homeless people during the storm. "The structure of the building is there, but there are no walls, there is nothing inside," she says, "It's just a shell."

Luckily, all 12 people inside the home, and the staff member who took care of them, all managed to stay safe and "unscathed."

RELATED: Hurricane Ian: How to Help with Disaster Relief Efforts as Catastrophic Storm Makes Landfall

As the water continued to lower, her family went to the basement to see what could be saved. "I just spent the day wading through my mom's basement with all of her wedding photos and my baby books," she says, noting they've now all turned into "brown muck."

Critser also tells PEOPLE she saw her mom break down after finding the last letter her dad ever wrote to her before his death. "It feels pretty hopeless," she says. Her grandpa also lost everything and found some of his T-shirts in a tree.

Woman's First Hand Story of Hurricane Ian. Credit Mallie Critser
Woman's First Hand Story of Hurricane Ian. Credit Mallie Critser

Mallie Critser

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Talking to PEOPLE in a follow-up interview, Critser was with her family and an "amazing group of family friends" in Valrico, Florida, recovering from the terrifying day. As for how she's doing, she says she's "not great, but I'm breathing."

"They have a donation box set up for us online and have just replenished me with clothes and toothbrush and stuff like that," she says, noting that her faith has been her strength the entire time.

"My faith in Him and knowing that this isn't the end," she says. "I mean, if I'm breathing, there's something else out there for me."

"As much as I need help, there are people who lost their lives," she adds, sending her condolences. "So I lost everything I have, but just pray for the families that lost people."