After the storm's fury: members rally to offer comfort and support

Putting the pieces of a city back together after a hurricane as powerful as Hugo is not an easy task, but it is being done, and Latter-day Saints are doing their part.

Nearly seven weeks have passed since Hurricane Hugo gave the mainland USA its hardest blow as it hit land at Charleston Sept. 22-23. Evidences of Hugo's havoc are still abundant. Workers are repairing damage caused by the storm that gnawed roofs from homes and businesses, lifted buildings clear of their foundations and destroyed homes. Driving through the city, one notices that practically every third home has roofers busy at work, or crews hauling off downed trees.A large number of those workers are LDS volunteers who have come from throughout South Carolina, as well as from stakes in Georgia, North Carolina, Florida and Tennessee. Many residents - members and non-members alike - praise the LDS volunteers as "blessings" in the wake of the storm.

Typical of those helped are Randall and Doris Wright, who are not LDS.

"The Mormons have been here in full force," said Mr. Wright. "Eight came the first Saturday, nine came the next, and 15 came the next week. I figure the Mormons have saved me thousands of dollars worth of work, but I can't put a money price on what they have done. It's the spirit that counts."

The storm brought a rallying spirit among residents in general and Latter-day Saints in particular. Pres. Steven Baughman of the Charleston South Carolina Stake said telephone calls with offers of help are still coming in from stakes as near as Columbia, S.C., and as far away as Florida and Tennessee.

"There has been unqualified support of the people for each other," said Pres. Baughman. "People have worked shoulder to shoulder. And hearts have been humbled. It seems more people are receptive to spiritual things. We have gone to the members to help them and then we've gone to their neighbors. Often, when we ask people if we can help them, they break down in tears."

Recipients of the LDS volunteers' service frequently ask how they can repay them for the service. Most often, the answer is, "The next time the Mormon missionaries knock on your door, please let them in and listen to them."

Reviewing the impact of the storm upon members in the stake, Pres. Baughman said, "The saints are doing well in Charleston. I feel we are a notch above where we were in improving certain aspects of our lives, and that this storm has given us an opportunity to make those improvements as we work together. We are now trying to get our lives back to normal. We are struggling to achieve normalcy, not just survival."

A major part of normalcy was achieved when regular Church meetings and activities resumed two weeks after the storm, when electrical power was restored to meetinghouses. "I now think it was a mistake not to hold the meetings," said Pres. Baughman. "The saints were hungry for gospel associations, they were thirsty for fellowship, and they needed the comfort and support that come from meeting together."

In summarizing the damage caused by the storm, Pres. Baughman said 15 LDS families in the stake were displaced by the storm. "That doesn't mean those homes won't be rebuilt," he said.

Deborah Graham, a member of the Charleston 3rd Ward, was among members whose home sustained serious damage. Of her loss, she said, "I realize material things are not important. It's a house that has been damaged. That's all. Just a house."

Phil Gerald, also a member of the Charleston 3rd Ward, said, "As I drive around, I see homes where trees are still down in yards, and I wonder, `What's going on?' Then I realize I have had the help of the brethren. We had 30 people in our yard helping us clean up. Neighbors were amazed to see all those men coming to help."

Brother Gerald observed that members whose own homes sustained severe damage volunteered to help others. "One example is Bill Hartz, who lived on Sullivan Island," he said. "His apartment was destroyed, yet he has been going around helping others."

Stake and region public communications director Yvonne Hastings said a member in the Goose Creek Ward, Patrick Branham, went to all his home teaching assigned families before he checked on his own house.

Michael Helmantoler, elders quorum president in the Rockville (Md.) Ward, was sent to Charleston as a Red Cross worker. "We can't live Christian lives by proxy," he said of the members' efforts to help others. "We can watch all the problems shown on television and feel sorry for the people, but there comes a time when we have to get up and do something."

Pam Gerald said, "We are grateful for our blessings. I got upset when a woman on national television, in speaking of the disaster, asked, `Where is God?' I don't think people in Charleston doubt the Lord protected us. I know Latter-day Saints feel He did."

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