LDS render service in wake of Opal's rage

More that 700 Church members worked four straight days to help clean up the devastating effects of a hurricane that caused an estimated $1.8 billion damage to the Gulf Coast the first week of October.

With winds blowing up to 140 mile per hours, Hurricane Opal raged through Mexico, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. The hurricane, called one of the strongest to ever hit the United States, is the second to hit this fall. Hurricane Erin struck some of the same area Aug. 3.Three people in the United States and seven in Mexico were killed as a result of the most recent disaster. All Church members and missionaries are reported safe. More than 1 million U.S. residents also lost power in the storm.

The needs of Church members in Mexico - where one member family lost their home - have been met by local Church leaders.

In the United States, the Pensacola Florida Stake Center sustained minor water damage and another Florida meetinghouse was seriously damaged by a fallen tree that hit the roof. During the storm, more than 600 members took refuge in meetinghouses in Florida, where Hurricane Opal's effects were the most devastating.

President Kenneth J. Holbert of the Pensacola Florida Stake is coordinating the relief effort for his region, where the Resource Center of the Church Welfare Services in Atlanta, Ga., sent its "Spearhead Unit," including canned food and water, to assist in relief efforts.

President Holbert called this year a "historically significant season" because two hurricanes have hit practically the same area within months of each other.

"We had some members who had near total destruction of all their property," Pres. Holbert said. "The beach front homes and condos were just gutted, . . . windows and doors were blown out. Some of the sides of the buildings were ripped off by the wind."

Pres. Holbert said Church members removed a motor boat from the living room of one home and placed it on the front lawn, near a sail boat. Neither boat belonged to the homeowner. "We have pieces of debris that are a half-a-mile away from where they began," he explained.

But, Pres. Holbert added, the response from members in his stake and other nearby stakes has been "gratifying and overwhelming."

The goal of the volunteers was to meet the needs of Church members, he said, adding that the number of non-member households receiving help probably exceeded the number of member households. And because of the service rendered by Church members, Pres. Holbert expects missionary work in the area to skyrocket, just as it did after Hurricane Erin.

For example, he explained, two of his neighbors who have not wanted to hear the gospel are now interested in the Church because they saw members come together to help the community.

Pres. Holbert called the morale of Church members good.

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