Four days after Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida as a powerful Category 4 storm, causing billions of dollars in damage and killing at least 80, members of the Southwest Baptist Church of Fort Myers gathered in their battered sanctuary on Sunday to thank God for sparing their lives.
“We have people here who have lost their homes. We have people here that we haven’t heard from in quite a while,” Senior Pastor Bob Kasten said during a clip from the service taped by The Weather Channel.
When Hurricane Ian hit 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 the Southwest Baptist Church fled to safer ground as the storm ripped through the seaside town, some displaced members sought refuge in the church where floodwaters soaked the floors and the wind ripped holes in the roof, USA Today reported.
Church leaders could not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Christian Post on Monday.
Mark Helms, music minister for Southwest Baptist Church, shared photos of the church’s toppled steeple and other damage on Facebook.
“At the moment it still hasn’t been understood. I think right now they’re still a bit, at least with me, a bit numb,” Pastor Stephen Kasten, Bob’s son, said Sunday. Kasten at The Weather Channel. “A lot of them are just grateful to have survived what they went through and they are praising God. That is why we are here today.
Church member Greg Wathan, 62, said he fled his two-story home in his truck before the storm surge cut him off. He said he got into the bed of his van and was praying when he saw a woman in the water.
“I don’t think she was going to be able to get up and push her way through. And I felt like I couldn’t get out of the truck; the waves were moving too fast I couldn’t resist. So sincerely, I prayed for an outcome that would be good for everyone,” he told The Weather Channel.
After praying, Wathan said, “It looked like the lady was able to move through the water with the current closer to my truck where I could reach her hand.
“She was able to grab my hand, and [I] eventually pulled her into the bed of the truck. And she was just wearing a t-shirt and shorts and no shoes, indicating she was swept out of her driveway,” he said.
Other church members who are mostly retired seniors, like 82-year-old Adelgarde Frazee, have had their own stories of survival.
Frazee told USA Today she took shelter at the church before the storm hit and recalled how she saw the wave nearly kill a man trying to get away in his Jeep.
“It knocked his windshield off, threw him out of him. And he floated down. He was struggling against the current. He was trying to get 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 church members heeded warnings to evacuate the area ahead of the storm.
“Last Sunday I did a post where Jesus walked on water in the storm. And I was like no matter what happens in the storm, we’ll be there on Sunday,” he said. We’ll worship God no matter what. And so I think most of the church feels the same way, and we’re just here to see who shows up. A lot of the members, they left, and it was great.
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