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A mother, a bus driver, an optician: Glimpses of the people killed by Ida’s wrath

Remnants of Hurricane Ida flooded highways and tore some homes in two, but the damage cut deeper for the families of the people killed by the storm -- including five around the Philadelphia region.

Laura Sinnott Caroluzzi tears up while she holds a photo of her husband, Jack Caroluzzi, who died in Wednesday evening’s flooding, outside of their home in Bridgeport, Pa.
Laura Sinnott Caroluzzi tears up while she holds a photo of her husband, Jack Caroluzzi, who died in Wednesday evening’s flooding, outside of their home in Bridgeport, Pa.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

One was a motorist who helped his wife climb out from the passenger seat as the raging water rushed in, then drifted away to his death. Another was a mother of three who, engrossed in a beloved hobby when the tornado alerts flashed, made the mistake of thinking “not here.” A dozen miles to her west, another man waded into a flooded basement to retrieve a keepsake and never came back.

“And then I dove into the water and I tried to find him, but I couldn’t find him,” Laura Caroluzzi said Friday, sobbing outside her Bridgeport home.

The remnants of Hurricane Ida flooded highways and tore some homes in two, but the damage cut deeper for the families of at least 50 people killed across the Northeast. In the Philadelphia area, five — including Caroluzzi’s husband, Jack — were counted as storm-related deaths as of Friday, though that number could rise. Here are their stories:

‘He would always come through’

Donald Bauer was on his way home to Perkiomenville, Montgomery County, after he and his wife, Katherine, watched their daughter, a Moravian University sophomore, play in a volleyball game Wednesday night just outside of Allentown. Even as the threat of the storm loomed, or, really, because of it, Bauer stopped along the way to buy a sump pump for his mother-in-law’s home.

» READ MORE: A Timeline of Ida's Philly Destruction

That was typical, his son said.

“He could be a curmudgeon, but he really was like the Grinch: His heart was 10 times bigger than people expected,” Darby Bauer said Friday about his father, 65, a retired school bus driver. “He would always come through for anybody, no matter the circumstances.”

As the rain accumulated, the couple had called their son for help navigating the closed and blocked roads. Then they frantically hung up and called 911.

They were about 15 minutes from home when their Mazda SUV was swept up by the flooding Unami Creek in Milford Township, Bucks County. As the vehicle careened through the water, it struck a home, and its rear windshield shattered. That’s when Bauer urged his wife to climb through to safety, convincing her that he would be fine.

He stayed in the car as the roaring waters pulled it away.

Katherine Bauer clung to a nearby tree branch for an hour until she was rescued by state police and fire department personnel. Rescuers looked for Donald Bauer’s car but called off the search around 11:30 p.m. as conditions became too dangerous.

It wasn’t until 6 a.m. Thursday that rescue crews in boats found Bauer’s vehicle, and him inside. An autopsy later determined he had died from an accidental drowning. His 54-year-old wife was taken to St. Luke’s Hospital Upper Bucks Campus in Quakertown, where she remained Friday, her son said.

His father’s death reflected his life, Darby Bauer said.

“This just reinforces how much he really cared about his family,” he said. “We always knew this.”

Death in the basement

The rain woke Jack and Laura Caroluzzi just before 2 a.m. Thursday, and when they looked outside, their Bridgeport street was beginning to flood. Jack, 65, tried to unclog the storm drains outside, his wife said, but the water kept coming.

Back inside, Jack waded into the basement, the water up to his waist, to salvage belongings. He made a few trips, lugging cat litter and extra food upstairs, before remembering about the two metal boxes containing jewelry from Laura’s late father. He waded back down, Laura said, took a deep breath, and moved through the water toward the boxes. At that moment, all the smoke alarms in the house went off.

”Jack! Jack!” Laura said she screamed.

She dived into the basement water, clawing for her husband of 32 years, who just two months ago had been diagnosed with liver cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy. Laura sucked air from 2 inches of space left between the water and ceiling. Her toes desperately searched for the floor, she said. Finally, she found a step, and pulled herself out.

A water rescue team pulled the front door off its hinges to save her, she said, and she was taken away by boat, screaming Jack’s name until she reached the ambulance.

Jack was born in Germantown, had a daughter named Lauren, and made his living buying and selling cars, his wife said. He also loved to play blackjack at the Valley Forge Casino Resort.

» READ MORE: How to help victims of Ida

Late Thursday afternoon, emergency teams recovered his body. County officials are still investigating his cause of death; Laura believes he was electrocuted.

“I don’t know why I made it out. I don’t know,” she said Friday. “I wish I wouldn’t have made it out.”

That day, her family and landlord stripped the foundation of her home of seven years. Their two cars were totaled, and the three-story house will be condemned. Laura, 52, looked at the piles of ripped carpeting, dismembered couch, and trash bags of mementos strewn across the sidewalk.

“This was my life. This was my life with my husband,” she repeated, sobbing.

Warnings unheeded

Maxine Weinstein, a mother of three, was focused on her favorite hobby, weaving on her loom, when the tornado warnings flashed across her phone.

Weinstein’s husband, Stan, urged her to seek shelter in the basement of their Fort Washington home. But to Weinstein, 68, like many in the Philadelphia region, the idea of a twister in the suburbs seemed far-fetched — truly “a one-in-a-million thing,” according to her brother Jonathan Belmont.

» READ MORE: Ida Resource Guide: What you need to know

The tornado, an EF-2 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, ripped down numerous trees in Weinstein’s neighborhood, one that crashed into their home. The Montgomery County Coroner’s Office said it killed her, listing the cause of death as “traumatic asphyxia.”

Weinstein was a Philadelphia native so smart she skipped eighth grade, studied Chinese at Muhlenberg College, and spent several years teaching English in Taiwan.

“She was very bright,” he brother said.

Another brother, Andrew Belmont, said his sister’s skills with language were evident when he was a child dealing with a difficult speech impediment.

“She’s the only one who could understand me and tell people what I was trying to say,” he said. “She was my personal translator.”

But her career, Jonathan Belmont said, was truly her children: Weinstein had two sons and a daughter and was active in the autism awareness community.

“She was a tremendous person,“ he said.

A beloved optician

Craig Messinger came from a clan of opticians, dating back to 1888, when his great-grandfather opened an office in New York City. The Messinger family opened its first Philadelphia office at 10th and Race in 1922.

Messinger, who would have turned 71 Saturday, ran Philadelphia Eyeglass Labs in Montgomeryville, and represented the fifth generation in the business.

“More than anything, though, the reason we’re still thriving is because we don’t go home until everyone’s happy,” he wrote on his office’s Yelp page.

He was believed to have been on his way from work to his home in Schwenksville on Wednesday night. As the storm intensified, Messinger’s family started looking for him with the help of police.

But the rising floodwaters and lack of light made that search difficult; Messinger wasn’t found until hours later in nearby Skippack Township.

His son, Zach posted the news on Facebook.

Messinger was remembered as kind, gentle, generous, and compassionate.

A creek like a river

Like many waterways across the region, Marsh Creek was on its way to record water levels. Residents would later say it looked at points like a rushing river with a strong current. And it found Michael Nastasi as he drove his black Dodge Ram down Stuart Avenue in Downingtown.

It swept Nastasi’s truck into a park, along with several other vehicles and an Amazon Prime van. The next morning, his daughter posted on Facebook that he had been missing since 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Two hours later, she posted again, saying he had not survived. Nastasi had been found dead in his truck in Samuel Tabas park, according to Chester County Coroner Christina VandePol.

”Please keep him in your thoughts. He was an amazing father and such a loving husband to my mother,” wrote Kate Nastasi. “I hope no one else has to go through this.”

On Friday, members of the Nastasi family gathered outside their Downingtown home but declined to speak with a reporter. Nastasi, 51, was a security systems technician at CBRE, based in Collegeville, according to his LinkedIn. He was also a driving instructor at the Chester County Intermediate Unit, a job he’d started only six months ago.

”He was just a very warm and friendly person. He had a way about him that, when you were in his presence, he put you at ease,” said Mark Slider, CCIU driver’s education coordinator and assistant supervisor of online learning.

Nastasi was at once fun and calming, making nervous students comfortable as they took their first driving lessons — they “immediately responded” to him, Slider said.

“He enjoyed interaction with kids. For him, it was about making an investment in young people and having a positive impact … which he did.”

Staff writers Juliana Feliciano Reyes, Marina Affo, Heather Khalifa, and Oona Goodin-Smith contributed to this article.