St. Augustine, Florida firefighter rescues little girl during Hurricane Ian flooding

Oberholzer said she will 'have a little piece of my heart forever'

A Florida firefighter was applauded after his rescuing of a young girl from flooding during Hurricane Ian Thursday. 

Hardus Oberholzer was one of several first responders engaging in the department's 26 rescue missions in St. Augustine this past week. During the city's worst high tide Thursday afternoon, Oberholzer was forced to walk through waist-high water in an attempt to rescue a young girl from her home. 

"She’ll have a little piece of my heart forever. It’s something in their eyes," Oberholzer told the WFMY. "When they truly are at their worst, we show up and have to be at our best every time. Something I’ll remember for the rest of my life and I hope they do, too."

The girl's family had previously assumed they would be safe if they remained in place, but she immediately called for help after water levels began to rise, Oberholzer told WFMY. The number of emergency calls coming in grew exponentially on Thursday as the tide rose and water was pushed up into houses and driveways.

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Oberholzer recalled having to drive through six feet of water during the rescue, according to WFMY. The firefighter stated he never felt he was in danger as he drove in an enormous highwater truck but said the situation was still "nerve-wracking."

St. Augustine firefighter Hardus Oberholzer rescues a little girl from her Florida home during Hurricane Ian. Oberholzer was one of several first responders engaging in the department's 26 rescue missions in St. Augustine this past week.

St. Augustine firefighter Hardus Oberholzer rescues a little girl from her Florida home during Hurricane Ian. Oberholzer was one of several first responders engaging in the department's 26 rescue missions in St. Augustine this past week. (St. Augustine Fire Department)

A fellow firefighter was able to snap a quick photo showing Oberholzer holding the girl close as he waded through the waters.

The little girl he rescued is the same age as Oberholzer's own son, with the father-of-two saying her face will stay with him.

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Oberholzer was part of at least 10 to 15 rescue missions, stating he didn't have a specific count.  

A little girl was rescued by St. Augustine firefighter Hardus Oberholzer during flooding amid Hurricane Ian. 

A little girl was rescued by St. Augustine firefighter Hardus Oberholzer during flooding amid Hurricane Ian.  (Credit: St. Augustine Fire Department)

St. Augustine Fire Chief Carlos Aviles highlighted the department's and Oberholzer's efforts via a Facebook post, writing: "This week that new mission statement was tested to the extreme, and I could not be more proud of how our firefighters performed. While these two images perfectly embody the essence of our mission, I have received dozens of first hand accounts of how helpful and present our firefighters have been."

Aviles said he was proud of their efforts and thanked the first responders' families for supporting their loved ones. 

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"Thank you to all our residents and businesses for your continued support," Aviles closed off.

Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida as a Category 4 storm and continues to weaken as it heads over Virginia Sunday. Deputies in various Florida counties are being forced to rescue residents via boat as areas experience historic flooding.

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King Point resident Maria Esturilho is escorted by her son Tony Esturilho as they leave behind the damage from an apparent overnight tornado spawned from Hurricane Ian at Kings Point 55+ community in Delray Beach, Fla., on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022.  

King Point resident Maria Esturilho is escorted by her son Tony Esturilho as they leave behind the damage from an apparent overnight tornado spawned from Hurricane Ian at Kings Point 55+ community in Delray Beach, Fla., on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022.   (Carline Jean /South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Approximately 75% of energy customers in the state have had their power restored since the hurricane first hit. The U.S. death toll currently stands at more than 50 people, with at least 47 confirmed deaths in Florida and four deaths in confirmed in North Carolina.