Members of the two EPC congregations nearest the Florida landfall of Hurricane Ian suffered significant effects from the near-category 5 storm.
“Many of our congregation have suffered severe and total loss of home, cars, and property,” Mike Jones, Associate Pastor of New Hope Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers, said by email on September 29. “At this point, I am not aware of any loss of life or health, but I know some were evacuated by boat at 5:00 a.m. (Thursday).”
He also noted that there was no power, water, or internet and most of the roads in his neighborhood were “impassable.”
Paul de Jong, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers, reported on September 30 that “everyone appears to be safe and accounted for. But with no power and spotty cell service I haven’t been able to contact everyone—only maybe 10 percent of our congregants.”
“One who I did talk to had several feet of water in their home,” de Jong said. “Another elderly lady who lives by herself had 5 feet of water in her house. Her piano ended up upside down, and her refrigerator was in her living room. So for many people, they lost all their worldly possessions and their homes will unlivable for months.”
He reported only minor damage to the church property.
“The church has a few broken windows, a few leaks here and there, and the steeple will need some TLC,” he said, noting that the storm surge stopped about 200 yards from the building. “The church sits in a flood zone, but it’s very well built by incredibly faithful Christians in the 1950s who recognized that one day a hurricane would come.”
He added that though the church building was not an official shelter, “quite a few homeless people were knocking on the door as the storm approached. We absolutely wouldn’t turn them away, so we let them in, fed them, and took care of them as best as we could. We held a brief worship service and of course I spoke on God being our shelter in the storm. One of the men said we gave him the best meal he had had in a long time, and I hope we were able to minister him spiritually as well. My biggest job was to try to keep people’s spirits up because you could just feel the anxiety.”
Both de Jong and Jones said their homes received only minor damage, and the New Hope campus “was spared any real damage,” Jones said.
“In my neighborhood, every home sustained some damage—some major and some minor,” de Jong said. “Our house has damage but nothing that can’t be fixed.”
He added that both First and New Hope plan to hold worship services on Sunday.
“Though without power for the sound system I will have to project like Spurgeon back in the day,” de Jong quipped.
Damage reports from other Florida pastors
Elsewhere across Florida, EPC churches were largely spared significant effects during Ian’s slow trek northeast.
“All is well here in Tampa,” said Mark Farrell, Pastor of Tampa Covenant Church on September 29. “The church is intact, with just a few felled tree branches and accumulated water in the parking lot. Thanking God for His grace on our churches at this time. May He continue to do so as we all recover.”
David Swanson, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, said “the First Pres buildings are all good—and our staff has fared well.”
Robert Olszewski, Pastor of GracePoint Church in Plant City, reported that some of the members of his congregation suffered minor damage and power outages.
“We are reaching out to folks in our community who need help and providing a hot meal today at the church,” he said by email on September 29.
Doug Walker, Pastor of River City Church in DeBary, reported minor damage to the church property. “And it appears our parishioners are doing OK,” he said by email.
Dillon Thornton, Pastor of Faith Community Church in Seminole, said his congregation “weathered the storm well. Our church campus and our members suffered only minor damage.”
Greg Gunn, Lead Pastor at Providence Church in Spring Hill, said “all is well at Providence Church and with the flock. We are praying for our friends in Ft. Myers.”
After leaving Florida as a tropical storm late Thursday and entering the Atlantic Ocean north of Cape Canaveral, Ian regained hurricane strength with sustained winds of 75 m.p.h. A hurricane warning is in effect for coastal South Carolina. Ian’s storm surge is forecast to bring five feet of water into coastal areas in Georgia and the Carolinas. As it moves north across South Carolina and into North Carolina and Virginia, rainfall of up to eight inches could bring flooding to inland areas.
The EPC Domestic Emergency Relief Fund is accepting donations to assist EPC churches in these and other disaster areas with identified needs. To contribute, see www.epc.org/emergencyrelief.