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Body of missing Zolfo Springs man recovered in Hardee County, authorities say

Craig Markgraff Jr. was swept away in rushing floodwater Thursday morning after Hurricane Ian tore through Hardee County.

ZOLFO SPRINGS, Fla. — A week after Hurricane Ian tore through Hardee County, nine bodies have now been recovered in that area, authorities say.

One body recovered on Tuesday afternoon has now been identified as 35-year-old Craig Markgraff Jr., the Hardee County Sheriff's Office said. He was swept away in rushing floodwater Thursday morning from the storm.

His father, Craig Markgraff Sr., said he was with his son through the storm. A friend of Markgraff Jr. was also with them. 

Markgraff Sr. said as the Hurricane battered his son's Zolfo Springs home, Markgraff Jr. and a friend were determined to evacuate in a kayak and canoe. 

Markgraff Sr. said he followed their lead reluctantly, determined not to leave his son. 

Ultimately, the boats capsized and the trio spent the night in trees. 

Markgraff Sr. said he and his son clung to each other for warmth, a memory that makes him emotional to reflect on. 

"He came and he hugged my back and warmed me up with body heat," said Markgraff Sr. "It was like an apology."

Once day broke, Markgraff Sr. said his son and friend once again became determined to reach a boat they could see down the river, despite the fast-moving current. 

When his son and friend jumped into the water, Markgraff Sr. said he followed suit, but while he plotted a course to a low-hanging branch to cling to, he suddenly saw his son rushing down the river. 

"I was looking down river and I see him struggling and he was up to the water to here," said Markgraff Sr., gesturing to his neck. 

Markgraff Sr. said he hopes people can learn from mistakes they made through the storm, particularly to heed the shelter-in-place orders.

Hardee County Sheriff Vent Crawford said after finding Markgraff's Jr. body they’ve largely transitioned to search and recovery mode.

"As far as recovery, we’re still going through on the river searching for anything that may be abnormal," said Crawford. 

They’re still combing the water for anyone who may not have been reported missing. He is particularly concerned over the county's large migrant population who may not have local family ties.

For now, one of many families who lost loved ones during Hurricane Ian mourns an energetic, passionate soul, taken too soon.

"We all love his free spirit, his eagerness, the way he would get excited over things that excited him," said Markgraff Sr. "I used to believe everything happened for a reason, but now I have to believe sometimes bad things happen for no reason at all." 

In an effort to have everyone accounted for, the Hardee County Sheriff’s Office says a first responder has now knocked on the door of every home in Hardee County since Hurricane Ian blew through last week.

RELATED: Family of Zolfo Springs man who went missing during Hurricane Ian holds onto hope

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