Army of LDS work to help Georgia's tornado victims

One day after a tornado touched down here March 20, more than 400 Church members from six stakes gathered to offer assistance.

The tornado ripped through a 10-mile corridor between Hall and White counties in Georgia, affecting the communities of Gainesville, Dawsonville and Cordelia - killing 11 and injuring as many as 80 people. No members or missionaries were injured during the disaster.More than 50 homes - including those of two member families - and two schools were damaged by the twister.

The storm was the second major disaster to hit Georgia this month. In southern Georgia, a week of flooding caused by torrential rainfall March 7 though March 15 damaged at least 500 houses and 11 businesses and forced about 11,000 people to evacuate. (Please see related story on this page.)

Members and missionaries rallied to help disaster victims in both the southern and northern regions of the state. "We realize that this could have happened to just about any one, including us," said Pres. George Wangemann of the Sugar Hill Georgia Stake.

Local officials, he added, could not believe that the Church could organize a relief team of 400 so quickly after the tornado struck the Gainsville area. "We had so many volunteers that we overwhelmed the Hall County emergency agency," said Pres. Wangemann. So with the permission of property owners, they organized their own clean-up efforts. Local officials "marveled at the amount of work we were able to accomplish in just one day," he said.

Church members moved downed trees and helped victims clean their clothes and sift through wreckage for personal items.

Bishop Michael J. Riemann of the Gainsville Ward called the search for valuable items "tedious work."

"They were sifting through a bunch of stuff that looked like it came through a blender," he said. "And they found things that were very precious to families," including pictures, home videos and coins from a rare collection.

Local Church leaders have also made plans to volunteer later. They expect more than 1,000 Church members from across Georgia to help tornado victims March 28.

Pres. Wangemann said he received a call from the Young Women president of the Brookhaven (Vietnamese) Branch, Atlanta Georgia Stake. The girls in her unit asked if they could travel to Gainsville and join other Church volunteers offering relief. Just like the hundreds that had already volunteered, the young girls wanted to reach out to others.

"As I looked out over the crowd of Latter-day Saint volunteers, I couldn't help but think that this was a labor of love," Pres. Wangemann said. "[I saw] a great army that gave service to others because they truly felt that these people are our neighbors and wanted to demonstrate in a small way that we keep the second great commandment, to love our neighbor as ourselves."

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