Church sends relief supplies to assist hurricane victims

Before the winds calmed behind the devastation of Hurricane Mitch in Central America, trucks in Salt Lake City were loaded with relief supplies.

In response to the disaster, 240,000 pounds of goods were shipped Nov. 2 from the Bishop's Central Storehouse in Salt Lake City. With uninterrupted intensity, workers loaded trucks with clothing, plastic sheeting, foam mattresses, beans, rice, soap and powdered milk. As soon as the trucks were loaded, the heavy vehicles rumbled southward to Gulfport, Miss., where the cargo was to be carried by ship to Honduras. The shipment is expected to arrive in Honduras Nov. 10.Hurricane Mitch, the fourth strongest storm to originate in the Caribbean in this century, stretched 350 miles wide and pounded countries from Belize to Costa Rica with 180-mile-an-hour winds and poured down more than two feet of water during one six-hour period. During its peak Central American deluge Oct. 27-29, it flooded 50 rivers that later overran more than 200 towns and villages in Honduras. Nearly all the roads were washed out or covered with mudslides. Some estimates have placed the number of dead at 9,000. Of these, some 1,500 died beneath a massive mudslide that entombed two villages.

Elder William R. Bradford of the Seventy and president of the Central America Area said that one member is known to have died as a result of the widespread disaster, but the lives of many others were preserved as members rallied to help each other. "We have been very fortunate that way," he said.

More than 13,000 members have been affected by the hurricane. He noted the storm affected most of the major cities in the north part of Central America from the southern tip of Mexico and Belize to Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

"We are finding that we have more than 4,000 members evacuated from their homes which were flooded or destroyed by the winds," he said in a telephone interview with the Church News.

Elder Bradford estimated that some 1,500 homes of members are seriously damaged and 500 of those will have to be completely rebuilt. He said 21 meetinghouses were flooded, and 16 of those were seriously damaged.

He said all the missionaries are well and accounted for. Missionaries are helping in the clean up, shoveling from 1 to 4 feet of mud from homes. "They will be involved in the clean up in the short run."

Elder Bradford explained the tragic toll of the storm is becoming evident as relief efforts progress. He said that a mudslide in Nicaragua from the lake and slope of a volcano was five miles wide and a hundred feet deep. It submerged two towns. Now, tremors from a nearby volcano have led officials to evacuate towns below it for fear the same thing may happen. The Church is helping members in these towns to find alternate housing.

Local welfare agents and priesthood leaders are organizing food distribution, and members are working in unity to face their challenges.

"Our priesthood quorums and Relief Societies are doing an extraordinary job in organizing the people and seeing to their needs," Elder Bradford said. "They unquestionably saved lives. We took people off rooftops, and we advised them to leave when waters began rising, and provided transportation for them. It was members helping members.

"We have housed them mostly in meetinghouses for their safety and to see that they are out of the weather."

He said the containers of food shipped from Salt Lake City will be received at Port Cortez, Honduras. The Church shipment is being carried without charge as a service by banana growers Dole and Chiquita, whose ships are empty on their return trips to Central America.

The food will be distributed upon arrival. People in some areas that are still stranded will receive food by small airplane and helicopter, said Elder Bradford.

"Our best estimate is that we will have to supply food to up to 12,000 members in the short run, for a couple or more weeks until bridges are put back and roads opened between the major cities and normal distribution resumes.

"Most members who were affected by the storm have lost their clothing and bedding. We will need to have medical supplies on hand for lots of members, and we are organized to do that.

"The members are certainly saddened by the loss of their property, their jobs, their businesses, but are encouraged by their faith, and the emergency response of the Church in their behalf, so there is a general positive attitude."

Once the weather stabilizes, crossings on rivers, which are numerous, will have to be rebuilt. Dozens and dozens of mudslides and landslides will have to be cleared away to get highways opened. Land communications will have to be re-opened, and the infrastructures of many cities will have to be rebuilt, said Elder Bradford. "We are looking at a long and slow recovery.

"We are doing fine," he continued, "and these wonderful people are all working together. We have great appreciation for all the Saints rallying around and helping with their funds and their time."

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed