TAMPA, Florida - Before Hurricane Ian took a turn to the east, the City of Tampa was bracing for a direct impact. Today, the people here are grateful they were spared the brunt of the storm.
It's hard to believe the sun is shining so brightly after such a monstrous storm was threatening just two days ago here in Tampa Bay.
CBN News talked to several residents about this area being the epicenter – or at least it could have been. They say they're thankful, by the grace of God, it wasn't catastrophic.
Now it's back to life as usual for Tampa.
More than 300,000 people were evacuated from Hillsborough County as forecasters called for the worst storm in more than a century to hit "The Big Guava."
A flood of traffic came back to the area, serving as the first sign it was safe to go home.
Some computer models predicted Ian would hit Tampa head-on. Then the storm surprised Florida residents after shifting and making landfall 90 miles south in Cayo Costa.
"And a hurricane always makes a direct shift with us for some reason," said Tampa resident Joyela Valentine. "And it did it again, thank God."
Those who stayed in their homes to weather the storm say God's grace is what saved the city.
"There was a lot of debris hitting my house. A lot of sounds hitting my house," said Kevion Ketchum. "I was definitely praying to God."
"We just checked my house today. By the grace of God, no flooding," Valentine told CBN News. "I put sandbags out. Shutters up. And thinking today if Ian came for us, OMG it would have been very, very bad."
Sadly, the catastrophic Category 4 winds and storm surge shift ended up leveling the southwest coast. CBN's Operation Blessing (OB) is already there, ready to help residents recover.
"We're here in Naples, Florida where residents are recovering in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian," said David Wright, OB senior deployment manager.
Operation Blessing is moving into the hardest hit areas, coordinating with local churches to distribute support and much-needed supplies like generators, tarps, emergency food, and water.
"We're also partnering with pastors in the area to help find the greatest need," Wright said.
Russell Benson, the executive pastor of the Nation's Church in Orlando, said it's hard to understand why these storms happen. But he said the goodness of God will certainly bring us through them.
"I want to encourage you that God is with you even in the middle of the storm," Benson said. "No matter what your trial. It may be a physical hurricane or it may be something spiritual in your life that you're going through."
"The Lord is there, and there to offer you comfort and peace through the storm. So just reach out to him," he continued.
Back here in Tampa, there's not a lot of damage that needs to be cleaned up. And the people who live here are very thankful for that.
Pain and suffering are an inescapable part of life but God promises to use them for our good. Click here to learn more.