Church News - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Fury of Hurricane Hugo unites LDS in midst of overwhelming ruin

Published: Saturday, Sept. 30, 1989

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After Hurricane Hugo's 140-mph winds sliced a destructive path through the Caribbean islands and the eastern U.S. coastline Sept. 18-23, leaving overwhelming havoc, Church members banded together with the stamina and hardiness of pioneers.

In the fury of the hurricane, the worst in a decade, some 60 people died, and tens of thousands were left homeless."The saints here have been remarkably prepared," reported Pres. Steve E. Baughman of the Charleston South Carolina Stake. "There's not the trauma you'd expect with something of this magnitude because the Church members have all been flexible to get by with less, and they're all digging in to get the clutter cleaned up."

No Church members were killed or seriously injured; at least 150 members in Charleston, however, lost their homes, and hundreds of others elsewhere had their house roofs blown off. On the island of St. Croix, an estimated 95 percent of all homes were left without roofs.

Damage to Church property was minimal, said Elder Rex D. Pinegar of the First Quorum of the Seventy and president of the North America Southeast Area.

Pres. Kay Briggs of the Puerto Rico San Juan Mission, said, "The islands here look like battlefields. The members and missionaries have fared pretty wellconsidering, but what was once lush green jungle now looks like Utah before the first snowfall."

Food and other supplies have been shipped by the Church to areas hit hardest by the hurricane. The Church's emergency response officials said shipments have included water, food, cooking stoves, power generators, propane fuel, and tools to be used in cleanup efforts. Most of the supplies were shipped from Church storehouses in Columbia, S.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., to Charleston, and the islands of St. Croix and St. Thomas in the Caribbean.

An 18-wheeler emergency unit, equipped with enough supplies and tents to support and give shelter to 1,000 people, was sent Saturday, Sept. 23, to the Charleston area from Atlanta. Stakes in Georgia, Florida, and the Carolinas sent in work crews, many with chainsaws to remove trees from off of homes.

"Everyone's working together," said Luther Goad, regional representative for the Charleston area. "We've been receiving calls from all over; people are so willing to help out. Everyone in this area has been affected to some degree, but they're working to help others as well."

Alvie R. Evans, regional representative for North Carolina who lives in Charleston, is an example of the selflessness and emergency preparedness typified by the members, reported Elder Pinegar. Although the Evans' home was seriously damaged, they were the only ones in the area with a generator, and the night after the hurricane hit they shared their food storage with 11 families.

Pres. Val Clark of the Columbia South Carolina Stake and coordinator of local support teams lived in Idaho at the time of the Teton Dam disaster and said the effects of Hugo are of much greater magnitude than the 1976 flood.

"More than 500,000 people are without electricity and drinkable water and food supplies," said Pres. Clark. "But the Church has a marvelous system that's ready to help at any time."

Pres. Baughman related: "It's really inspirational to see how the Lord removes barriers and shows us we're all pretty fragile and in the same boat. I just visited one of my home teaching families today, and they had shared some of their food with some non-member neighbors, developing a warm friendship. Everyone has the same kind of needs, so they're all working together."

In Puerto Rico, where water and electricity might not be functional for several weeks, and damage is estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars, missionaries and members are working together in the cleanup effort, providing many opportunities for non-members to ask about the Church.

"People are asking, `What Church do you belong to?' because they see how we've banded together," said Pres. Briggs. "Missionary work in the normal sense may have slowed down, but kindness and charitable works have not."