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Panthers praying for families in path of Hurricane Ian

Stantley Thomas-Oliver

CHARLOTTE — As soon as practice ended, Panthers cornerback Stantley Thomas-Oliver III came inside Bank of America Stadium and started calling 941 area code numbers.

His family did not evacuate and was still back home in Punta Gorda, Fla., near where Hurricane Ian made landfall Wednesday at Cayo Costa as a Category 4 hurricane, just short of the threshold for a Category 5 storm.

"I just got off the phone with them, right after practice," Thomas-Oliver said. "They said the weather was pretty bad, but not too much. The power is out right now. But they're doing good, staying strong.

"It's big, so if you leave, when you come back, all you can do is hope everything's intact and nothing's broken that you have to replace, things that are dear to you. You can't take everything; you just take the things you need. You don't know if you might have to come back home and start over."

Growing up in Florida, he's been through storms before, but admitted his concern was different this time.

"Because this is a big one," he said. "We haven't had one this big in a while, almost Category 5."

Thomas-Oliver was in college at Florida International in Miami in 2017 when Hurricane Irma hit land, flooding his school and forcing the football team to evacuate and play their home opener against Alcorn State on the road. He also remembered Hurricane Charley in 2004, which at the time was the strongest storm to hit the United States since Andrew in 1992. He was 6 years old at the time, so his specific memories of the storm are few, beyond hearing the wind, seeing trees uprooted, but he recalled the aftermath.

"It messed up my school pretty bad," he said. "All you can really do is hope everyone's OK."

Other Panthers with South Florida ties expressed a relief the storm was passing north of their families, but with the recognition of what the storm can leave behind.

Defensive end Brian Burns, from Fort Lauderdale, said he's been in touch with family in Florida today and said: "I don't know that they're going to get the worst of it, but it's close enough for comfort."

He remembered seeing empty grocery store shelves as they prepared for storms when he was a child, and families coming together to support each other, staying with nearby friends with generators in the aftermath.

"It's terrible. I remember the power going out for a week," said kicker Eddy Piñeiro, who grew up in Miami. "Thankfully, we had water, and we had a bunch of good neighbors, we helped each other, we would feed each other. We would all just hang out in each other's houses. We'd eat, and drink whatever we had. We just had to look out for each other."

View photos from Wednesday's practice as the Panthers prepare to take on the Cardinals this weekend.

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