TAMPA — Benjamin Curry isn't due to be installed as the pastor of the Greater New Salem Primitive Baptist Church until Wednesday.
But as the church's de facto leader, Curry felt he should make sure the property on Nebraska Avenue had come through Hurricane Irma safely.
He barely saw any storm damage on the trip from his Brandon home so it was a jolt when he arrived to find that hurricane-force winds had ripped most of the steeple off the top of the church.
"I pulled up and I saw it. I was a little shocked to see it," Curry said. "But hey, we're grateful no one was inside of it."
The storm deposited a roughly 20-foot section of the steeple on the ground just in front of the church entrance. With the roof exposed, it also played havoc with the ceiling above the church's balcony, which now has a clear view through the steeple to the sky above. The pews underneath were littered with soggy ceiling tiles.
A builder who was passing stopped and gave Curry a free damage estimate. The cost of repair could be as much as $40,000, he was told.
The damage earned Curry a Monday morning visit from Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who was touring the city assessing the impact of the storm.
"This is the worst that I've seen," Buckhorn told Curry. "The wind normally goes around those things."
New Salem Primitive was founded in 1905 and held services in a one-room building on Ninth Street, according to a historical marker outside the church. The current church at 1605 Nebraska was built in 1969 and has about 125 members.
Curry, 45, moved here from Cleveland, Ohio, to run the church. He and Deacon Albert Wilson worked with volunteers to begin cleaning up the church Monday morning.
Despite the damage, there are no plans to cancel Wednesday's special service, when Curry will be officially installed as pastor. Sunday services will continue as normal, he said.
"We're going to press our way through it," Curry said. "This will not deter us; we're here to do work."
Contact Christopher O'Donnell at [email protected] Follow @codonnell_times