CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla. (WFLA) — Citrus County emergency crews rescued dozens of people on Wednesday in the wake of Hurricane Idalia.

According to Citrus County Fire Rescue, 76 people were shuttled away from homes on airboats after the area was inundated by several feet of storm surge, exacerbated by the king tide cycle.

Many had their pets in tow, including 82-year-old Theodore Kazimiroff, who was unable to open his own front door due to the floodwaters. The U.S. Army veteran and author was in good spirits despite the situation, because rescue crews took a second trip by airboat to recover his beloved pet birds.

“I love them because they’re my children, if you will,” Kazimiroff said.

As Kazimiroff explained, the Queen of Bavaria conure – a Brazilian bird that is also known as the golden parakeet because of its vibrant yellow plumage – is a rare species with a small natural population.

“If we can rescue them, we’ll be doing a service to the species, not only to this population,” Kazimiroff said. “Because without the DNA that these two can add to the dwindling population in the wild, the species could go extinct.”

Firefighters soon returned by airboat, carrying the birdcage through floodwaters to reunite Kazimiroff with his beloved pets.

“I almost went extinct too, except for the airboat rescue,” Kazimiroff said with a laugh. “But this was a rescue beyond all hopes for rescue.”

The Citrus County search and rescue teams were assisted by members of the Crystal River Fire Department, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Florida National Guard and the Florida Forest Service.