It was late on Sept. 28 when Hurricane Ian was whipping across the Farmhouse Animal and Nature Sanctuary in Myakka City, causing owners Dave and Lisa Burns to brave 100-miles-per-hour winds to check on the reserve's 120 animals.
Lisa Burns looked into a pasture where four horses were huddled together. If a hurricane brings people closer together, it can do the same for animals.
"The horses were all standing in a semicircle, with their butts pushed together," Lisa Burns said.
The next morning, with trees and limbs down all over the grounds and floodwaters still flowing past the barns and house, Lisa Burns again looked out at the horses.
This time, three of the horses were trying to get into one of the pastures, but the fourth horse, a 30-year-old quarter horse/Arabian mix named Danny, wouldn't let them.
"He knew it was dangerous," Lisa Burns said. "They would come up to the gate and he would push them back."
Then it was time for people to start working together.
Those in the Myakka community know Lisa and Dave Burns opened the sanctuary to house dumped animals. They wanted to protect animals that no one else seemed to want. In 2017, the could received nonprofit status for the 6-acre sanctuary. Dave Burns began building habitats and Lisa handled administrative duties.
So volunteers were quick to respond after the hurricane passed.
"After the storm, we had volunteers here every day," Lisa Burns said. "The first day there were six volunteers. The second day we had 13."
The volunteers kept coming.
On Oct. 17, Dave and Lisa Burns and the volunteers were still cleaning up fallen trees and limbs.
"We got a lot cleaned up since Saturday," Lisa Burns said. "Half of the volunteers have been our regulars, but the other half have been strangers."
Lisa Burns put out a call for help on social media and she said many volunteers from the Lakewood Ranch area responded, along with several from St. Petersburg. Susie Bowie, the executive director of the Manatee Community Foundation was among those who showed up to work.
The Burns estimated the damage at $60,000, which can be tough for a nonprofit living on the edge. However, both say they have no intention of quitting.
"We definitely are going to keep going," Lisa Burns said. "We will find a way."
Clearing the rest of the trees and replacing the fence is the next chore.
"I counted 34 trees down and then I stopped counting," Lisa Burns said.
In one pasture, with downed trees all over, a young oak tree stood tall. It was the tree they planted in 2018 in honor of Lisa's late brother, Tony Wakefield, who died that year. Somehow, that tree made it through.
The Burns weren't sure they were going to make it through the storm the night Hurricane Ian hit.
"In the middle of the night, we were second guessing our choice to stay here," Lisa Burns said. "We didn't think anything would be standing."
More than 10 inches of rain ran through the property like a river because the grounds already had been saturated from previous rains. Two of the pumps they use in their ponds were submerged and ruined. A power surge blew out some of their equipment and destroyed a washing machine.
"It made me sick to my stomach," Dave Burns said. "It was very scary and we didn't know what would happen. We marked the animals — horses, goats, tortoises — putting Lisa's phone number on them."
They didn't mark their kangaroos because they figured their neighbors would know where they came from.
With downed trees ripping holes through or crushing the fences, they went out in the worst part of the storm trying to put up kennel panels for a temporary fence. However, the winds threatened to rip them away.
"We were hanging on to those," Dave Burns said with a grimace.
When they went back to the house, water was coming up to the porch, but not making into the house. But then water came streaming down the chimney into the fireplace. Dave Burns attempted to mop it up with towels.
Finally, morning came and they had to enact quick temporary repairs so none of the animals could get out.
"It wasn't dangerous for people," Lisa Burns said. "But it would be dangerous for the animals if they got out."
They also needed to make quick repairs so predators didn't get into the facility. Bobcats and coyotes often look for access to the pastures.
The property now is secure, but lots of work remains in front of them. Lisa Burns said they could use anyone with heavy machinery, such as a backhoe, to help with the cleanup. More volunteers are welcome and they also would accept any donations to help them buy equipment and feed for the animals.
They just received a donation of reclaimed telephone poles that will help them rebuild the fence.
"Our main barns are in great shape, and really, we were blessed," Lisa Burns said.
Only one animal was slightly injured. A pig was limping after a fence had fallen on her.
The Burns have applied to FEMA and the United Way, but haven't received a decision whether they qualify for any funds.
"We've had a lot of damage," Lisa Burns said. "But everything can be replaced."
Even so, Dave Burns said he hopes never to go through it again.
"But it has been amazing to see people come together," he said. "It's too it wouldn't happen all the time — people being so nice to each other."