On the last three-day weekend of summer - a weekend when most people are vacationing - 5,000 Church members opted instead to help those hit by the devastating effects of Hurricane Andrew.
Members from the North America Southeast Area, responding to a call from the area presidency for volunteers, converged on the South Miami area Sept. 5-7. They came as far away as North and South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas, said Pres. D. Michael Madsen of the South Miami Florida Stake."It's just been overwhelming to see the loving responses of the volunteers who have come to help," Pres. Madsen related. "I was overwhelmed that 5,000 would come and spend most of their Labor Day weekend working. They brought their own tools, their own food and water, rendered service and then left with nothing but a warm feeling in their hearts for their fellow man."
Pres. Madsen estimated that the time and efforts of the 5,000 volunteers "had to have cost millions of dollars."
Some members arrived in Miami about 4 a.m. Sept. 5, rested a few hours and then started working through the weekend. Work crews labored in 85- to 90-degree heat with almost 90 percent humidity.
Crews stopped for sacrament meetings on Sunday, Sept. 6, dressed in their work clothes, before heading out to help those in need.
The crews were part of an ongoing effort to mop up after Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida Aug. 24 with winds up to 160 miles an hour. The Bahamas and Louisiana were also struck by the hurricane but the most damage occurred in south Florida, according to news reports.
An estimated 85,000 homes were destroyed in Florida, leaving a quarter of a million people homeless and 15 dead, authorities said. No members or missionaries were killed or injured. (See Church News, Aug. 29 and Sept. 5, 1992.)
Pres. Madsen, president of the stake which was at the heart of the damage in Florida, said 46 member homes were totally destroyed, with about 20 being military base housing. Significant repairs were made to 178 member homes.
The day after the storm, all members were accounted for and in temporary housing where needed. Three days after the hurricane passed through, the stake had made all the temporary repairs to member homes which were salvageable.
The following weekend, Aug. 29, about 1,800 volunteers from surrounding states and northern Florida came and roofed 500 homes for non-members and cleared roads.
The massive volunteer efforts of the Church members on the Labor Day weekend included canvassing neighborhoods and helping where needed, regardless of race or religion, Pres. Madsen remarked.
Wearing yellow T-shirts with "Mormon helping hands" printed on the front, it was easy to spot Church members working throughout the area.
"The disaster has brought the entire community closer together and the efforts of volunteers have helped improve harmony between all people regardless of who they are," Pres. Madsen said. "There is a great outpouring of Judeo-Christian love here. The feeling many people have is that the storm may have blown away our house, but it didn't hurt our home."
Through the Sept. 5 weekend, many volunteers spent time working with the U.S. Army to canvas four migrant work farm camps where 3,000 migrant workers live.
Crews brought in food, hauled away debris, put up new roofs and made homes livable again.
More than 200 members from the South Miami and Miami Florida stakes played key roles as they helped translate for Army and Church crews upon entering the migrant camps. "The translators went in and calmed their fears, telling them they were there to help and then asked what they needed," Pres. Madsen explained.
The Army brought in front loaders to clear away debris, and 2,000 volunteers from the Church went in to help rebuild roofs, clean up and distribute food.
As of Sept. 7, the Church had distributed nine tractor-trailer loads of foodstuff, water and medical supplies throughout the Miami area. Supplies came from the bishops' storehouse, Wal-Mart Corp., and from the American Red Cross.
The Church also provided eight tractor-trailer loads of building materials, along with work crews. "We have roofed well over 1,200 homes and taken in food and supplies to many in the community," Pres. Madsen remarked.
He said authorities were estimating that 160 square miles of suburban Miami were destroyed by the storm and 50,000 jobs had been lost.
The Church sent in employment specialists to help members who are out of work find temporary employment. LDS Social Services also came to offer counseling.
"We are trying to take care of the temporal needs, the emotional needs and the work needs of the people," Pres. Madsen explained. "People are flabbergasted that others would come and help them for free. All the outpourings of assistance have been well received."
One volunteer, Randy L. Sigg, first counselor in the Charlotte North Carolina Central Stake, made a 14-hour drive with a group of about 60 from his stake to help in clean-up efforts.
"I think everybody went down there not knowing what they would find, but asked themselves, `in a situation like this what would the Savior do?' People had parties planned and were going out of town, but that was a minor inconvenience. There was no question about what their decision would be.
"I'm sure if this ever happened again, these same people would jump at it [the opportunity to help]."
Memories of Hurricane Hugo and its devastation in Charlotte in 1989 were still close to the surface for many of the stake's volunteers, he explained. "We could remember what it was like and wanted to help. Even though we didn't know the people we were serving, there was a bond of brotherhood and sisterhood between us."
Full-time missionaries also played a key role in coordinating relief efforts, Pres. Madsen said. Missionaries coordinated dispatch centers at the Kendall and Homestead ward meetinghouses, and as volunteers would check in, they would be sent out to help.
One observer said it went so smoothly it was hard to keep track of the large numbers of volunteers as they would come and get their assignments and disappear.
Pres. M. Garfield Cook of the Florida Ft. Lauderdale Mission said 50 missionaries staffed the centers the first week after the hurricane and 35 missionaries coordinated efforts at the centers the second week.
Because most street signs are gone, missionaries who know the area have been a great help as they have gone out with work crews and provided them with direction, Pres. Cook added.
Member volunteer efforts have already sparked a lot of interest among non-members and has not gone unnoticed, he continued. "People keep asking, `what is this Book of Mormon you've got?' They are very much interested in learning about the Church. Down the road a few months from now I think this will dramatically increase the missionary work."