Four days after Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida as a powerful Category 4 storm, wreaking billions of dollars in damage and leaving at least 80 people dead, members of the Southwest Baptist Church in Fort Myers gathered at their battered sanctuary on Sunday to thank God for sparing their lives.
“We got people here that lost their homes. We’ve got people here that we didn’t hear of for quite a while,” Senior Pastor Bob Kasten said during a clip from the service recorded by The Weather Channel.
When Hurricane Ian slammed into Florida last Wednesday, it first hit the island of Cayo Costa with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph, not far from Fort Myers and Cape Coral.
While many members of Southwest Baptist Church fled to safer ground as the storm rampaged through the beach town, some displaced members sought refuge at the church where flood waters soaked the floors and wind ripped holes in the roof, USA Today reported.
Leaders at the church could not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Christian Post on Monday.
Mark Helms, Southwest Baptist Church’s minister of music, shared photos on Facebook of the church’s toppled steeple and other damage.
“Right now, it still hasn’t sunk in. I think right now they’re still kind of, at least with me, kind of numb,” Pastor Stephen Kasten, Bob Kasten’s son, told The Weather Channel on Sunday. “A lot of them are just grateful that they survived what they went through, and they’re praising God. That’s why we’re here today.”
Church member Greg Wathan, 62, said he fled his one-story home in his truck before the storm surge cut him off. He said he climbed into the bed of his pickup truck and was praying when he saw a woman in the water.
“I don’t believe she was going to be able to stand up again and make her way. And I felt I couldn’t get out the truck; the waves were moving too fast I wouldn’t withstand it. So sincerely, I prayed for an outcome that would be good for everybody,” he told The Weather Channel.
After he prayed, Wathan said, “it seemed like the lady was able to move through the water by the current closer to my truck where I could reach her hand.”
“She was able to grab on my hand, and [I] eventually pulled her into the bed of the truck. And she just had a t-shirt on and in shorts and no shoes on, indicating that she got swept out of her driveway,” he said.
Other church members who are mainly retired older adults, like Adelgarde Frazee, 82, had their own stories of survival.
Frazee told USA Today that she took refuge at the church ahead of the storm and recalled how she saw the surge nearly kill a man trying to drive away in his Jeep.
“It knocked his windshield out, threw him out of it. And he came floating down. He was fighting the current. He was trying to make it to the church stairs,” she said.
While he was grateful to see the members who survived the storm on Sunday, Stephen Kasten said he was also happy that many of the church’s members heeded warnings to evacuate the area before the storm.
“Last Sunday, I actually did a message where Jesus walked on water in the storm. And I was like whatever happens in the storm, we’ll be here Sunday,” he said. “We’ll worship God no matter what. And so I think most of the church has that same feeling, and we’re just here to see who shows up. A lot of members, they did leave, and that was great.”