FLL shooting survivors share ordeal as local hotels offer accommodations

PORT EVERGLADES, Fla. (WSVN) — Passengers stranded in the wake of the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting shared their accounts of the harrowing event, as local residents and businesses continue to come forward to offer assistance.

A woman on board a flight that landed at FLL told 7News she got very close to the gunman, identified as 26-year-old Esteban Santiago, who, according to authorities, opened fire in a baggage claim area in Terminal 2 of FLL, Friday, just before 1 p.m.

The passenger, who asked not to be identified, said she was standing next to a woman she’d befriended during her flight when she heard gunfire. “She was standing right next to me, and I gave her a gift. She turned around. I turned around, and when she said my name, the pops started,” she said. “We hit the ground. I turned around, and she was shot in the head and killed. Her husband was shot in the face, and the guy next to him was shot in the cheek. The guy next to him was face down; he was dead.”

This was when the passenger saw Santiago. “Then he walked around on the other side of the luggage carousel, and I crouched closer to get a little protection, and I saw my husband, and [the shooter] reloaded, and he was just walking with his arms straight out, stone-faced,” she said. “He stopped right by my husband. He was shooting other people, but he didn’t shoot my husband.”

The passenger and her husband had been trying to get a taxicab at Port Everglades to take them to Weston for hours when she spoke with 7News.

It is a problem many stranded FLL passengers faced, Friday night. “Now I’m tired, I’m hungry, I’m thirsty,” said Helmut Meier. “I’ll have to find a hotel room.”

“Everything was on lockdown. Nobody in, nobody out,” said Ozzy Sanchez.

Once passengers were able to leave the airport, they were bussed to Port Everglades, where they awaited their next move.

“We’d been sitting in the dark for six hours. We’re so happy we’re here now,” said Audrey Gary. “We got a cab, and we’re going to Key West.”

The chaos started at the airport with planes sitting on the tarmac. The fear from the initial shooting and subsequent scares gave way to confusion and frustration for passengers.

And then they waited for hours.

7News cameras captured long lines od passengers at the tarmac waiting to use portable bathrooms, which made a maddening day even worse.

But local residents lent a helping hand later in the day. Florida Gov.

Rick Scott tweeted that Airbnb activated their “Urgent Accommodations” page to offer free or discounted rooms to those affected by Friday’s shooting that closed the airport. Several free options were available as of 9 p.m. Friday.

A manager of a Boca Raton Ramada hotel told 7News he was able to provide 50 free rooms for the night to passengers with a valid boarding pass who had nowhere to stay. The rooms are at their location, at 701 N.W. 53rd St., near Yamato Rd and Interstate 95.

The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau referred those needing accommodations to their website to search for available rooms in the area.

Meanwhile, FLL announced plans to reunite passengers with left luggage via Twitter.

At the Fort Lauderdale Renaissance Hotel, the Red Cross and police stood by awaiting the families of victims and stranded passengers at an organized staging area.

A couple who arrived at the Renaissance told 7News they’re trying to get home to New Jersey. “Everybody went running, screaming, into the Dollar, Thrifty offices, and we hid in the back,” said Marc Lerner. “We’d probably been there since 3 o’clock. The buses just let us out now, [at 8 p.m.]”

“Unfortunately, I’m afraid this is what life in America is now,” Lerner added.

Broward County has established a toll-free number for passengers and family members: 866-435-9355. In addition, a Family Assistance Center has been established at the Renaissance Hotel, located at 1617 S.E. 17th St., in Fort Lauderdale. For information, call 954-626-1700.

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