SANTA FE, Argentina Moving with surprising velocity, more water than anyone could remember flooded this northern Argentina city April 29, driving out 130,000 people and then partially or totally submerging their homes.
As the catastrophe began to develop and the situation grew more dangerous, local Church leaders mobilized priesthood brethren to help families leave their homes and seek refuge. Some 1,600 Church members escaped from the flood, about 400 of them finding refuge in four Church meetinghouses that were used as shelters. The rest stayed with family or friends.
A month later, there are now only 30 members remaining in meetinghouses, but the return home is slow as residents have found all their belongings destroyed. They have received the neccesary food, clothing and medicines, although state supplies are running short. Members are volunteering in the long process of rebuilding.
Among the refugees were Marta Gonzalez de Vargas and her 10 children, who waded 15 blocks through the floods to the train, leaving behind a home covered in water.
"I feel very blessed, all my family was safe; we have all that we need to live," she said. "The Lord blessed us to be able to survive those difficult moments. I love the Lord, I love the Church, and I love all that is represented in the gospel. These experiences have helped us be better people, better brothers and sisters and better children of God."
Yanila Natalia Espinoza, 15, said that "this experience has been a great testimony; I felt the Spirit, I felt calm and through my mind continually went the words of a hymn, 'Count your many blessings.' As I looked at our destroyed home, with all my things ruined inside, I felt the protection of the Lord."
President Pedro Zapata of the Santa Fe North stake explained, "We distributed resources and help through the priesthood organization. Bishops moved rapidly to accelerate the evacuation of the affected families, with provisions if necessary. We were able to bring out families because of the dedication and service of other members of the Church."
Often, adults remained behind on rooftops to protect their few salvaged belongings from being looted, a situation adding to the anguish of the victims.
Elder Angel Sule, a missionary recently called as regional welfare agent, went out to help. "It was heartbreaking to watch people on their rooftops suffering the inclemencies of the weather, day and night, risking their lives to protect the few belongings they had," he said.
"We brought them mattresses, water, food, clothing, shoes, generators, and medications." A Church member and physician, Dr. Carlos Sosa, assisted as well. They were also given boxes of food to subsist for five to seven days, and it was delivered to them on rooftops."
As soon as the area presidency saw the crisis develop, they approved funds to provide relief for the affected members, said Daniel Rodriguez Almeida, director of temporal affairs for the South America South Area.
Since that time, the Church has distributed 100 tons of food, three containers of medical supplies, 400 mattresses, and two containers of clothing.
"I was surprised to see how truly devastating the flood was," said Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Seventy, first counselor in the area presidency.
"Leaders and members of the Church have risen to this occasion wonderfully well. They have opened their hearts and homes. They have given countless hours of service. They have worked together tirelessly. Relief Society members and priesthood holders have blessed many hundreds of Church members and others as well. The marvelous charitable capacity of the restored gospel has been obvious to everyone.
"It is a thrill to be a member of this Church and to see its tremendous power to lift and help those in need."
President Jorge Prieto of the Santa Fe Argentina Stake said that the "spirits of the members of the Church are strong. This catastrophe has united and strengthened our testimonies. In the meetings, the scriptures about tribulations are often mentioned, and also that such tribulations bring blessings. The members have stronger families, and are looking forward with faith into the future. They believe that the most important thing saved was the lives of their family members."
While difficult challenges lie ahead for the members in Santa Fe, their brotherhood and faith have grown to help make them equal to the task.