Hurricane Kenna forever changed the landscape in the Mexican coastal town of San Blas when she reached land Oct. 25. Heavy rains, 20-foot ocean storm surges and winds in excess of 145 mph uprooted nearly every tree in the rural town, peeled roofs off buildings and flooded countless homes.
Yet Church members in the Nayarit Mexico District stood together and stood strong. Despite severe damage to local Church buildings and member homes, not a single member or missionary was injured, killed or left without food, water or medicine.
Church officials say the members in the district fared well, in large part, through the efforts of a loving, effective priesthood leader. Alvaro Artigas, a convert who presides over the district while serving as San Blas' only physician, "has been heroic, giving service around the clock," said Terry Spallino, who directs the Church's temporal affairs in Mexico.
President Artigas has exemplified the spirit of charity, adds President Wilford Andersen of the Mexico Guadalajara Mission.
"He's had between 16 to 20 people staying" at his home in the hurricane's aftermath, said President Andersen, who oversees the LDS districts in central-western Mexico.
Kenna's winds were just beginning to subside when President Artigas slipped on his priesthood leader hat visiting every family in his district, making a list of needs and providing food and shelter in his own home or medical clinic to those who found themselves without.
Others sought refuge in the nearby Tepic Mexico Stake meetinghouse, saddened that their own meetinghouse in San Blas had lost its roof and suffered severe water damage. But President Artigas worked hard to keep spirits strong.
"The members were sad at the beginning, but now they're OK. The Church sent help immediately," said President Artigas, quick to deflect credit to others.
President Artigas used emergency funds provided by the Mexico North Area to purchase food and medical supplies. Some 170 relief packages were quickly distributed to affected members and others.
Rank-and-file folks from the Nayarit District also stepped up, looking for needs and helping others. The day after the hurricane, President Artigas and many others grabbed machetes and began hacking their way through fallen trees so evacuated members could return to their homes to assess damage and start cleaning up.
"The members helped each other out. They also went to the meetinghouse to flush out the water inside so we could have our Sunday meetings," President Artigas said.
President Artigas thanked the full-time missionaries in the area for performing many charitable acts.
Although many members in San Blas have lost their jobs, President Artigas is confident the area can fully recover in a few months. The weather is again pleasant and once-frightened tourists are now returning to the area. Water and electricity have been restored and there are no long-term health concerns.
Still, Kenna has exacted a cost on the San Blas members. She's also taught a few lessons, President Artigas says.
"This has been a good time for reflection and finding ways to improve the future."