Thousands of members joined in massive clean-up efforts in south Florida and Louisiana amid the overwhelming $30 billion in destruction left in the path of Hurricane Andrew.
Church relief supplies were among the first to reach the areas devastated by fierce 160-mile-per-hour winds of Hurricane Andrew that struck the Bahamas, southern Florida and Louisiana Aug. 24-26. The worst devastation was a 30-mile-wide swath in the metropolitan area in southern Dade County in Florida. An area the size of Salt Lake City had been leveled, as though a giant lawnmower had razed it, said Glen Larson, public affairs director of the Miami Florida Stake.Authorities estimated that 85,000 homes were destroyed, leaving a quarter of a million people homeless and 15 dead. The windstorm then roared to Louisiana where it continued its work of destruction, though damage there was not comparable.
Elder Alexander B. Morrison of the Seventy and president of the North American Southeast Area visited Florida Aug. 29-30. His second counselor, Elder L. Lionel Kendrick, also of the Seventy, visited Louisiana during the same weekend.
Miraculously, most people in both states rode out the storm without injury. No members, including missionaries, were killed or injured, reported Elder Morrison. An estimated 130 homes of members were damaged but repairable, and another 30 were destroyed. Twelve of these homes, however, were on a military base.
Within the first four or five days, all homes of Latter-day Saints were temporarily repaired, most by member volunteers, some as far north as Atlanta, Ga., said Brother Larson. Volunteers wore yellow t-shirts with "Mormon helping hands" printed on the front.
Two Church meetinghouses, one in Homestead and one in Kendall, were damaged, but served as distribution centers for food and supplies for both members and non-members. An LDS doctor and his non-LDS associates assisted at the stake center.
"We had to make a department store out of the Homestead stake center and the Kendall meetinghouse," said Brother Larson. Supplies were sorted so that one classroom holds canned goods, another sugar, another flour, another baby supplies, and so on. "We tried to bring order out of chaos," he said.
"Members and non-members arrived. We took names, asked what they needed, then collected it for them.
"People were bringing supplies in as fast as the supplies were going out the door. I have never seen anything like it before."
Building supplies were also donated.
Pres. Michael H. Millward, first counselor in the Fort Myers stake presidency, was among the thousands of LDS volunteers.
"While we waited for our party to leave at 4 a.m. from Fort Myers, we were passed by hordes of cars and trucks, all loaded, heading south," he said. "It was quite touching."
He added that volunteers were instructed to walk into an area, "knock on doors and volunteer to help." Because all street signs were blown away, they didn't have any way of knowing where to go, or where they were. He said volunteers found a people stunned by the enormity of the disaster. "For miles and miles you could see nothing but total devastation. When we arrived to help, it seemed to give them new heart.
"We were putting plywood and tarpaper on roofs. We had 80 people who worked 280 hours and all we did was tarpaper eight homes and clean up 100 yards on one street. We will have a larger group this Saturday."
Elder Morrison held meetings under unusual circumstances with members during the two days he was in south Florida.
"We held sacrament meeting on Sunday morning in the parking lot of the Homestead meetinghouse, which was right in the eye of the storm and badly damaged. We had just begun to get settled in our chairs when spray planes went overhead spraying for mosquitoes. We went back in the chapel where it was completely black. We had only a few flashlights, but had the opening prayer in the church and then went back outside.
"We had our next sacrament meeting at the Kendall Chapel. There was one light in the building, a lamp on the podium by the speaker. There was a wonderful spirit in both of those meetings. The saints are of great courage and strength. Everywhere we went, the people would say, `we're fine,' and they would be standing in the middle of a totally ruined home.
"You can't break a people who have that kind of courage. We found that over and over again. They are dear souls. One Hispanic brother in his 60s said he lost everything he worked for in life, but said, `I still have the gospel and I'll be all right.' "
Elder Morrison noted that "we have been distributing food to members and non-members. We have good reason to believe many agencies look to us for leadership in helping the people, not just our own."
He explained that the members' volunteer service "is very much appreciated. The Church has received favorable recognition for that. One sign in the front of a home said, `Bless you for helping.'
He said that all members in need are receiving food from the bishops' storehouse and being cared for in the Lord's way. Now we can reach out and help other people. We were better prepared, but that's because we have the gospel, we have the brotherhood and sisterhood and that really makes a difference."
He described the devastation as "just mind-boggling. You can't describe it.
"I flew over and saw it and then saw it from the ground. There was mile after mile of destruction. They say this is the worst natural disaster to strike the United States."
Elder Morrison said he flew in a helicopter over a 1,200-unit trailer park that had only one trailer standing. The rest were a tangled mess of aluminum siding and other debris.
"Houses in fine neighborhoods were stripped to their rafters. They say the hurricane sounded like a freight train shrieking right next to their head. Once it entered a home, it exploded the contents out of the house."
Elder Kendrick traveled to Morgan City, New Iberia and Lafayette in Lousiana.
"I was extremely pleased that we had no more damage than we did," he said. "The most damage in the area came to people living in mobile homes. Occasionally there were trees that had been uprooted and fell on homes. Church buildings came through extremely well."
He said that despite winds that blew 160 miles per hour for five hours, with occasional gusts up to 200 miles per hour, "we were very blessed to not have anymore damage occur."
"The important thing is the very effective manner in which priesthood leaders handled the situation. They had plans of what to do and put their plan into action. They were taking care of the situation very well. That is heartwarming."
Also heartwarming were the telephone calls stake presidents received from many places on the East Coast asking if they could be of assistance.
Elder Kendrick said missionaries have been involved in cleanup. "We instructed priesthood leaders to reach out to everyone in the community to help neighbors settle back in."