A decade ago, Florida was still a sleepy and pristine paradise.
Its beaches, tropical vegetation, and crystal clear water made it an easy choice for the nation’s top surfers and vacationers.
But in the past decade, the state’s beaches have become a magnet for hurricanes and floods.
Lakeland, the third largest city in the state, was hit hard by Hurricane Irma, the worst storm to hit Florida since Tropical Storm Wilma in 2005.
Floodwaters reached the city’s Lakeland Beach, inundating the lakefront with up to 10 feet of water, causing the collapse of the surrounding houses.
In a matter of hours, residents were scrambling to evacuate.
Many were forced to build makeshift rafts and walk across the water, to save their homes.
Others, like Chris Houser, made their own rafts out of plastic sheeting and water bottles.
Houser had already been using a makeshift raft in Lakeland in anticipation of the storm.
But after a few days, he started to see the problem.
“We saw the lake was becoming very shallow, we were seeing more and more of the water coming down and the water was starting to come down the sides of the boat,” he told The Wall St. Journal.
“We were having to go out on the beach to get a bit of shade.”
Housers family and friends began to notice the boat’s lack of water when they began to see flooding along the lake.
While Housers and his friends did have a makeshift boat, it was too shallow for them to paddle on.
So they decided to make their own.
When he saw his friends, Housesters daughter, Emma, was worried about the safety of her brother, Chris, who was taking the water out of the rafts he had made.
But Housler reassured her that he had been practicing his rafts, and that they were in good shape.
“I told her, ‘You’re going to be okay,’ ” he recalled.
So when Hurricane Irma hit Lakeland, it knocked out the water supply to Lakeland and caused widespread flooding in the city.
The storm hit at 11 p.m. on Saturday, September 25, 2017, and the first thing Housier noticed was the water level on the water’s edge.
“It was pretty high,” he said.
About five minutes later, the lake turned to a pool.
By the time he returned to his house, the water had started to drain away.
“I went back into my house, and all the lights were out,” he recalled, “and I thought, ‘Oh my God, we’re going down.'”
Housier, who lives in Lakeville, had been out on his own since the storm hit.
When he awoke, he found his family was in a pool of water in their backyard.
“That was the first time I actually went out on my own,” he recounted.
Houses father, Eric, had just finished his job and was waiting for the boat to be towed away.
“Then the boat was gone, and I was out in the open, I went down, and a friend said, ‘Chris, I think your brother is in the water,'” Housinger recalled.
“He said, “‘Yeah, but he’s not dead.’
“When Housie heard that, he was like, ‘I don’t think so, I hope he’s OK, but we’ve gotta go.'”
Houses were destroyed, vehicles overturned, and businesses and homes were inundated.
Housist, who owns a furniture store, lost all of his furniture and had to rebuild it from the ground up.
But he said he had a lot of time to salvage the things he could.
“All the little things that were left were salvageable,” he explained.
“The little things I had that were gone, I put them in my backyard, and it was the best I could do.”
In the end, the family made do with only their personal belongings, like clothes and a pair of boots.
“We did what we had to do, we couldn’t afford to get all of our stuff,” Houserman said.
“So I just made it up to the roof and tried to get out of there as quickly as possible.”
The storm was not the only thing to hit the state.
Hurricane Wilma, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2018, also hit Lakeville.
The storm knocked out all the water in the lake and caused massive flooding in nearby communities.
“It’s really sad,” Hulser said.
“‘Cause there’s a lot to be grateful for.”