About 200 LDS families were among thousands in southeast Texas forced to evacuate their homes the week of Oct. 16 as flood waters and subsequent fires destroyed or damaged homes, farmland and businesses.
According to the Associated Press, the floods were spawned by several days of torrential rainfall. Then on Oct. 20, just as the waters were receding, pipelines ruptured, leaking fuel and oil into the San Jacinto River, a waterway east of Houston which leads into the Houston Ship Channel and eventually into Galveston Bay, explained Associated Press reports. Flames erupted, burning trees, homes and boats.As of Oct. 27, the floods had caused at least 19 deaths. No Latter-day Saints were reported among those killed or injured, although 100 LDS homes were flooded and their occupants were forced to evacuate.
Elder Francis C. Burton Jr., regional representative for the Houston Texas and Houston Texas North regions, told the Church News during a telephone interview that every stake in the Houston area, including those in adjacent and nearby communities, was affected by the flooding. The hardest hit stakes, he explained, were the Kingwood Texas, Houston Texas East, Houston Texas North, College Station Texas and Cypress Texas stakes. Other affected stakes included the Houston, Houston South, Orange, Katy and the Beaumont stakes.
Many members of the Kingwood Texas Stake also were forced to evacuate because of smoke and fumes from the fires, including stake Pres. Raymond D. Stewart, who has since returned to his home. No LDS homes were burned or damaged in the fires.
Elder Burton said that only a few members of those displaced by the floods had been able to go home as of Oct. 26 because waters are still receding. He added that it is difficult to estimate at this point how many have lost their homes because many of the structures are still under water or are still water-soaked. Homes must dry before assessments can be made, he said.
He added that many have "lost everything. LDS relief workers went into one woman's home and she was sitting there weeping. All she could do was wipe off a few family photos."
Reaching out to help flood victims like this woman - whether LDS or non-LDS - has become commonplace for members here. Those from less-affected units have teamed up with other members and full-time missionaries to donate relief supplies, clean up debris and houses, and offer an encouraging word or smile.
Elder Gordon T. Watts, regional representative for the Houston Texas East Region, which includes the Kingwood and Houston East stakes, said: "It's been unfortunate for people to go through this, but the members have done a marvelous job of going out and getting the job done.
"It's heartwarming to see how the people have rallied and helped in the community and felt that everybody is their brothers and sisters. It makes you proud to know you belong to an organization that belongs to the whole world and to be among members who love their brothers and sisters."
Members and missionaries joined in relief efforts in small and large groups, depending on the need. One of the largest task forces began gathering momentum Saturday, Oct. 22, when some 300 members, mainly from the Houston East stake and from less-affected areas of the Kingwood stake, and about 80 missionaries from the Texas Houston East Mission helped clean out 50 homes in the Kingwood area.
Elder Watts said the members organized into several teams of 40 and 50 each, headed by Melchizedek Priesthood leaders. They "pulled out carpeting, scraped out mud and so forth so homes could start drying out. Others were cleaning up debris in ditches and that sort of thing.
"Some people asked, `Who are you?' " he related. Upon finding out the helpers were Latter-day Saints, the residents expressed gratitude.
The next day, about 1,200 from five or six area stakes met for an early- morning sacrament meeting at the Kingwood stake center, then again dispersed in teams to help the community. Elder Watts related that one man walked up to Pres. Stewart and said, "I saw no human beings here today, only angels."
"One woman who was alone indicated how thankful she was that someone thought enough to help her when she was all alone," Elder Watts added.
Members in the Houston North region also provided relief. On Oct. 19, some 150 youth from the Houston North stake and missionaries from the Texas Houston Mission prepared 8,000 sandwiches for the Red Cross.
Sister Marjorie Deibert, a full-time missionary, wrote to the Church News: "The Red Cross was amazed that so much could be accomplished in such a short time. Those involved were happy that they could be a part of the relief effort."
Stanley G. Ellis, president of the Houston North stake, said that members of the stake's singles branch made 400 sandwiches for a nearby relief center. He explained that relief efforts are on an "ongoing basis. We have a number of different projects and groups."
He said that on Oct. 22, some 300 people from the Houston North, Cypress and College Station stakes helped with the clean-up. The next day, about 600 worked.
Pres. Ellis added that not all relief efforts have been focused on clean-up. Members have donated food, supplies and blankets to a Red Cross center and Relief Society sisters have taken dishes and clothes, washed them and returned them to the owners. Eugene H. Findlay, president of the Texas Houston Mission, said that about 20 missionaries will help at the main Red Cross shelter in Houston during the next few weeks.
Relief efforts have also branched out to nearby areas. Pres. Findlay related that about 50 missionaries joined with members of the Houston North stake to help flood victims in Conroe, Texas, about 25 miles north of Houston. In addition, Frederick H Stringham, president of the Texas Houston East Mission, said that missionaries have been helping in Beaumont, 80 miles east of Houston.