Helping eases strain of heavy snows lending a helping hand

Heavy and unrelenting winter snows over much of central and northern Utah and other areas during the first two weeks in January were seen by many as an answer to prayers seeking an end to drought.

In the aftermath of the storms, residents spontaneously pitched in to help each other dig out cars, clean driveways and clear sidewalks.But problems inherent in a heavy snowfall nearly brought the Wasatch Front to a halt on Jan. 11, during a particularly heavy storm when schools and many businesses closed. The Utah National Guard was activated to help in emergency snow removal on streets. Avalanches in canyons closed several roads, some roofs along the Wasatch Front caved in, and auto accidents numbered in the hundreds.

The snowfall in January in the Salt Lake area was the greatest in history, surpassing the previous record by 10 inches. The total amount that had fallen by Jan. 13 was 42 inches, almost four and a half times the normal month-to-date precipitation.

Despite the difficulties, most members expressed gratitude for the abundance of moisture, and recognized it as an answer to a special day of fasting and prayer held by members in December.

In the East Mill Creek 4th Ward in Salt Lake City, Bishop Heinz Weinzler organized about 70 men and women into nine groups. They went through the neighborhood helping members and other neighbors dig out.

"We cleared the driveways of older people and widows. In addition, others helped automatically," he said. "The non-members quite cheerfully accepted our services. One woman said she had been praying for help all morning. She said our coming was an answer to her prayers.

"It was hard work. Everyone seemed a bit tired afterward."

Missionaries in the Utah Ogden and Utah Provo missions volunteered on an individual basis, while a group of missionaries in the Utah Salt Lake City Mission dug out fire hydrants for the Sandy City Fire Department. Elder Kirk Dean of North Carolina and his companion, Elder Michael Summerville from Arkansas, were among the missionaries.

"It snows about once every 10 years where I come from," said Elder Dean. The 6-foot-2 missionary said the banks of snow were higher than his head and filled with chunks of ice. Missionary teams dug out a fire hydrant in about 15 minutes, he said.

"We worked hard, but we got pretty efficient."

In Ely, Nev., which was also inundated by snow, home teachers helped shovel clogged driveways, said Pres. Larry Dunton, counselor in the Ely Nevada Stake. "Even the old-timers don't remember the snow any deeper," he said.

Because the city is not well-equipped to remove snow, members with snow plows were organized to help clear residential streets.

He said most local stockmen had brought their cattle into feedlots where they were fed without difficulty.

Stake leaders in Ely asked members to not be critical about the snow, because more moisture is still needed.

In the Morgan Utah Stake, Pres. L. Verl Mecham, a road contractor and heavy equipment operator, said snow levels reached 40 inches in places, and the amounts of snow were "more than I can remember."

"We asked for it, and we are grateful for it," he said.

The previous year many of the local streams and springs dried up and wells had to be deepened.

A sense of community led people in the mostly-LDS town to help each other as the snow deepened, said Pres. Mecham.

"It was marvelous the way people came to help each other."

However, some in the community suffered property damage. "We had one big cow barn go down - a big one, 75 feet by 120 feet, and the community turned out to help the owner clean up."

He said that 75 cows were being milked in the barn just half an hour before it fell. Volunteers helped salvage the material in the barn and most of it will be used in rebuilding.

Pres. Mecham and two other local road contractors also helped clear streets when the heavy snows proved too formidable for the city's equipment. They worked for 10 hours and heaped snow into multiple 12-foot banks upwards of 100 feet long.

"Probably two-thirds of this was volunteer work," he observed.

In Wyoming, Pres. Rulon Osmond of the Evanston Wyoming Stake said members are accustomed to heavy snow and were ready as the snows reached accumulations of 30 inches. No property damage was reported.

"We have been blessed by being ready for it," said Pres. Osmond. "Most of the people who live in the area have been brought up in these elements. The last seven or eight years the snowfall has been light, but fasting and prayer do wonderful things - like bringing it [the snowT in. We are excited to see the snow build up. Our ranchers are relieved that there will be water.

"The weather and elements are severe, but not what is beyond what we are able to deal with. We are handling it.

"Wards have had young men shoveling driveways and sidewalks for the elderly. We've made extra efforts to feed the cattle on our Church ranch. The snow has made the traffic difficult, and we've had members whose cars had to be jump-started, or pulled out of drifts, but it has gone pretty well."

He said stake members have also cared for some Church members stranded while traveling through Evanston. "We have had many calls for help. We have helped them and had some stay overnight. We are able to help a lot of people."

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