Father and son brought together by Sandy close-call

(CBS News) TOMS RIVER, N.J. -- The night Superstorm Sandy made landfall on New Jersey's coast, Mike Iann was alone in his grandfather's house in Toms River.

"I thought I could save the house, by any means," Mike says. "I had buckets ready. I didn't think the whole thing was going to go under water."

But it did -- and he did -- up to his neck. The storm killed 125 people. Mike was almost 126.

Mike called his father to tell him he didn't think he'd survive the storm. He told his dad he loved him and would try his best to survive.

"I'm screaming, 'I screwed up. I should have never stayed here. I should have listened to you. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. The water is so deep,'" Mike says. "And I'm like, 'Dad, I gotta go.'"

Tony Iann says that when he hung up the phone, he started to cry.

"I said, 'It's over, he's not coming back.'"

Tony didn't hear from his son again for eight hours, experiencing a living hell that is only surpassed by what his son went through that night.

After the house partially collapsed, Mike fled the building and was swept away.

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For more than three hours, he got beaten and battered by waves and debris before finally washing up alongside an empty house. He went inside. Finally out of the water but still freezing to death, he sat by a window and wrote a final letter for his dad.

"I just wanted my dad to know that I went to this house and I tried to survive," Mike says. "I did almost everything I can. I just didn't give up when I ended the phone call."

Mike says he knew he loved his father, but says that "when you really think you're going to die, you really think about who means the most to you."

Mike's parents divorced when he was a kid, and his dad raised him alone. They were close -- less so, they say, in recent years, but certainly more so since Mike was rescued by a man on a jet ski.

"He hugged me like he never hugged me before, that's for sure," Tony says. "He hugged me like he was a kid again."

Mike says his relationship with his father will never be the same.

"I don't want to leave his side," he says. "Twenty-eight-years-old and I don't even want to leave his side."

No one would ever wish to experience what Mike and Tony went through, but wouldn't it be nice if everyone could live like they almost died?

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  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.