LDS Hurricane Relief

2829432020_97c849c351_o

September 1992. Hurricane Andrew hit Florida. I was a little girl in Sarasota. I remember the tense days as the Weather Channel blared, my mom charted the Hurricane’s course by hand, the city boarded up windows, and we prepared to evacuate. We knew the Category 5 Hurricane was headed straight to Florida, but we didn’t know quite where.

Andrew’s wrath ultimately missed my city (Sarasota) — but struck a few hours Southeast, just south of Miami. Once the storm passed, my dad loaded up a station wagon with power tools and a generator from his construction job. (“Everyone always forgets, after a disaster, that there will be no power outlets to recharge their tools,” he said.) My mom coordinated supply and distribution of water, milk and diapers. And then a convoy of adults from my stake decamped to Miami to provide relief.

Other stakes did the same. One bishop became so indispensable he was deputized by the Army and provided with his own helicopter to coordinate services. One ward, filled with timber-workers, packed chainsaws and decided to turn themselves into a tree-removal swat team.

Relief work continued through General Conference weekend. On that Saturday, the Mormons worked all day cleaning homes, ripping out destruction, and rebuilding. But as the sun set, the men headed to a stake center to catch the Priesthood Session. I get goosebumps at that vision — a Mormon army, who had swapped out black suits and white shirts for jeans, sweaty t-shirts, work boots, and power tools, joining together to sing “Ye Elders of Israel.” *

A story circulates among Mormons who lived in Florida then. 1992 was a tense election year – with George H.W. Bush vying for reelection against Bill Clinton and Ross Perot. In a show of political solidarity, the three of them made a joint visit to Hurricane-ravished Florida. As they flew in a helicopter over the roofless, splintered homes, President Bush pointed out all of the people who were sorting through the wreckage.

“Is that our FEMA personnel?” President Bush asked aloud.

“No sir,” the Helicopter pilot responded. “Those are my friends, the Mormons.”

Bill Clinton then exclaimed, “God bless the Mormons.”

In the years since Hurricane Andrew, the Church has continued to improve and systematize its disaster relief efforts. The Bishops’ Storehouses start dispatching supply trucks before storms even hit. The Church works ever more closely with the Red Cross and FEMA. It has developed project management applications. Ward buildings are converted overnight into relief shelters. Missionaries are reassigned to do nothing but serve for months. Stakes make sure their dispatched volunteer forces have water, food, fuel, etc. so they don’t need to impose on other efforts or contribute to the “second disaster.” T he Church has identified experts in radio communications, construction, medicine, and more, which it rushes to get on the ground in affected areas all over the world.

The yellow Mormon Helping Hands t-shirts, and resulting stories of hard work and community service, are ubiquitous in the wake of major disasters. Hurricane Harvey. Superstorm Sandy. Indonesian Tsunami. Haiti Earthquake. Oklahoma tornadoes. Right now, another disaster is unfolding with Hurricane Irma in Florida – a hurricane which, this time, is directly hitting my friends and former neighbors in the Fort Myers stake.

They need help. Houston and the Gulf Coast need help. The Caribbean needs help.  More Hurricanes are brewing. Cash donations to relief organizations are genuinely the most effective support – but for Mormons who live close enough to travel to affected areas, check www.justserve.org or with your stake to see if you can join a cleanup crew.

Mormons truly shine when it comes to emergency preparedness and disaster relief; let’s keep that love burning bright.

* I think that was the hymn. I tried checking the General Conference online music archives to verify, but they don’t go back to 1992.

Comments

  1. Thanks for this.

  2. Jim Wallmann says:

    I live near Dallas. From our stake president: “10,000 Latter-day Saints will travel to South Texas each weekend for the next three weeks to assist in the clean-up efforts.” Our ward is sending about 45 next weekend. Leave early Saturday morning, do cleanup work, spend the night at a high school, attend a short sacrament meeting, do more cleanup work, then return to north Texas Sunday afternoon. The limitation of 45 comes from the capacity of the high school; volunteers with family or friends in Houston do not need to stay at the high school, potentially allowing more to assist. Volunteers must supply transportation and all food, drink, bedding/sleeping bag, tools, etc. Today’s Sunday School lesson on saving the Willie and Martin handcart companies hit home.

  3. Sometimes religion works well.

    This evening we begin hosting a mother, daughter, and 3 their friends who fled Miami. Mom had dropped off daughter at U. of Miami when the storm approached. They couldn’t find flights (or at least, couldn’t find affordable ones) and didn’t have a car, so they rented a car and began driving north. They managed to find a hotel room in our town for tonight, but they could only stay one night. Virtually all hotels are booked in the state, so they were in a panic. Not knowing what else to do, the mom called her RS president in California, who eventually put her in touch with our ward’s RS president, who asked if we could help.

    This is the kind of Mormonism I like, and am happy to be part of. I don’t need the fantastical truth claims, or the narrow ideas about race and gender, or the elitism that comes with being God’s Chosen People. But I love the opportunity to open doors to strangers.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Carolyn, thanks for this.

  5. What a great post, Carolyn. Thanks for sharing your experiences and making the appeal to help out so many that need it now.

  6. Our city flooded last year. No efforts were made to organize the Saints. Leadership felt that would take away from family time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s