In anticipation of the impact of Hurricane Ian, Convoy of Hope’s disaster response fleet has already deployed with truckloads of relief supplies. According to a Convoy release, it is “launching a full-scale response” as volunteers had packed thousands of pounds of relief supplies ahead of time. The compassion organization expects to be in Florida providing relief for weeks to come.
According to a news conference held by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday, Hurricane Ian had an 18-foot storm surge — roughly two stories deep — which inundated the central west coast of Florida and had winds in excess of 150 miles per hour. This powerful Category 4 hurricane wiped out many beach-front homes and restaurants, submerged countless vehicles, made at least two bridges impassable, left millions without power, and as of early Thursday morning, some authorities believe it has possibly led to hundreds of deaths.
Russ Hurst, pastor of First Assembly of God in Fort Myers, says that Convoy of Hope is scheduled to arrive at the church on Friday and set up a point of distribution (POD) in the church’s parking lot in addition to establishing other POD sites. Hurst says that the church, located about eight miles inland, suffered only minor roof damage and no flooding, with electricity already restored to the auditorium.
“We’re thankful that the church is located in the same power grid as a grocery store and a water station, so we are often one of the first areas to have power restored,” he explains.
However, Hurst says he’s personally aware of a number of those living on Fort Myers Beach losing their homes, boats, cars, and businesses.
“I was in conversation with a friend who lives on Fort Myers Beach, and when the front edge of the storm hit, they already had water to the third step of their home,” Hurst says. “Then I didn’t hear from them for a while, but a couple hours later I received a text from them from a stranger’s phone, saying the water had reached the second story, but they were safe, but now needed someone with a boat to come rescue them (they were later rescued by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter).”
Hurst says he’s spoken to friends and families from the church, but some of those in the flood/surge zone have not responded. “We know of one family who went up into their attic to get above the water . . ., we haven’t heard what happened — we don’t know how high the water came up in their home.”
In addition to the water surge that the hurricane brought in with it, Hurst says it was almost like the storm pulled up the water from the bay and rivers and then dumped it onshore. “I was watching the weather report and it seemed that the hurricane paused over our area, churning in one place for a couple of hours, before continuing on at the reported 8 to 10 miles per hour.”
Yet even in the literal darkness of the storm, Hurst shares how the church was able to be a blessing to one couple.
Pastor Mark Biel and his wife, Pam, had flown to Florida to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. However, their flight out of Florida was grounded due to the approaching hurricane and they couldn’t reserve their room for another night as others had already bought up available rooms to ride out the storm. To top that off, Hurst says that authorities close bridges when winds exceed 45 mph — the couple were in a dilemma.
“When we learned of this, we offered them the use of one of the church’s apartments that we typically use for missionaries or guest speakers,” Hurst explains. “They made it through safe and sound — it was just nice to be able to be there to help someone in the (AG) family.”
With the arrival of Convoy of Hope on Friday, Hurst says the church is preparing to love on its community.
“We want to show them the love of Christ,” he says. “Even though it’s hard to see now, I believe God works all things together for good — oftentimes, in a crisis like this, the church will be able to connect with people we never would have otherwise.”