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Deadly storm season exacts precious toll

Members in several countries cope amid the aftermath of Ivan, Jeanne

As Church members in the Caribbean and U.S. Gulf Coast continue to clean up and recover following Hurricane Ivan, LDS Haitians are mourning the loss of one of their own claimed by Tropical Storm Jeanne.

A 70-year-old male member was among the more than 700 people killed after Tropical Storm Jeanne moved across Haiti's north coast. At least 1,000 others were reportedly missing and more than 200,000 people were left homeless in the communities of Gonaives, Port-de-Paix and Terre Nueve. More than 200 member homes were destroyed.

"It's very bad," said Haiti Port-au-Prince Mission President Curtis L. Giles. "Almost 80 percent of the homes in Gonaives have been destroyed or impacted severely."

There were no missionaries serving in areas hit hardest by Jeanne. They had been evacuated from the politically volatile region months earlier when the Haitian government was overthrown, President Giles said.

Communication and access to inundated areas of Haiti had been limited. "We have two missionaries from Gonaives who have not been able to make contact with their families," said President Giles.

Many of the mountains surrounding the northern communities battered by Tropical Storm Jeanne had been stripped of vegetation prior to the storm, leaving them vulnerable to flooding and landslides. The LDS meetinghouse in Gonaives was reportedly inundated with several feet of water and mud.

As it has during weeks of deadly, destructive weather in the Caribbean and U.S. Southeast, the Church is stepping in to help. Local priesthood leaders in Haiti have been enlisted to deliver food and emergency supplies to LDS victims and others and assessing damage levels.

"We're evaluating how to respond in Haiti," added Church Humanitarian Emergency Response Director Garry Flake.

Tropical Storm Jeanne also passed through Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, but no members were seriously impacted. Local priesthood leaders were using fast offering funds to assist local members as needed, Brother Flake said.

Meanwhile, members bruised by Hurricane Ivan in the Caribbean and U.S. Gulf Coast (See Sept. 18, 2004, Church News, page 6) continued in their recovery. After tormenting the Caribbean island-nations of Jamaica, Grenada, and the Cayman Islands, Ivan set its sights on the Florida Panhandle. More than 20 member homes from the Pensacola Florida Stake were destroyed or seriously damaged — forcing residents to seek shelter with family, friends or fellow Church members.

Fortunately, "most had evacuated from their homes" before Ivan arrived, said Pensacola Florida Stake President Mark H. Daniels. Despite the damage, there were no members injured in the storm.

Still, Panhandle residents won't soon forget Ivan's unwelcome visit.

"It was a scary night," said Catherine Gardner, who spent part of the Sept. 16 storm huddled with her family in the hallway of their Pensacola home.

Winds blasting off the Gulf of Mexico "could lift you right off your feet," President Daniels added.

Ivan undermined both communications and transportation in the Panhandle, destroying telephone systems and bridges. At press time, many communities were still without power. Schools remained closed and a midnight curfew was being enforced in Pensacola days after Ivan's departure.

Area Church buildings weathered the storm well. Four of the five Pensacola area meetinghouses became temporary storehouses in Ivan's aftermath — centers for distributing dry milk, water, hygiene kits, building materials and other provisions to hurricane victims of all backgrounds. Local LDS work crews were dispatched to aid those hit hardest. The Church also sent six truckloads of food and emergency relief supplies to affected areas.

"We're taking care of the most important things up front," President Daniels said.

Hundreds of fellow members from neighboring areas have already responded. On the Sunday following the hurricane, Sister Gardner heard a knock at the front door. There she met an enthusiastic work crew of priesthood holders from the Albany Georgia Stake who were eager to help. They cleared trees and cleaned up the Gardner's yard, then moved on to their neighbors' battered homes.

"It was neat to see so many people touched as they saw our Church members from so far away come to help them," Sister Gardner said.

The Albany work crews were expected to be joined in Pensacola on Sept. 24-26 by some 2,000 members from stakes throughout Florida and the U.S. Southeast. As in recent hurricane relief efforts, volunteers arriving at Pensacola-area staging sites will be provided detailed work orders identifying affected homes and attendant repair needs.

President Daniels recognizes the damage inflicted by catastrophes such as Ivan can't always be remedied by repair supplies and hygiene kits. He has requested assistance from LDS Family Services counselors to help nurture the emotional and psychological needs of storm victims.

Hurricane Ivan also battered regions of south Alabama — though members generally fared well, said Mobile Alabama Stake President Harlan G. Spencer. One member home from the Atmore Branch was seriously damaged.

"Our members fared very well, in part, because of the teachings of the Church . . . to be prepared," President Spencer said.

Ivan's remnants also left its mark on Virginia, prompting flood watches and spawning numerous tornadoes. In 2003, 31 tornadoes touched down in Virginia, breaking a state record. On Sept. 17, there were 30 in one day. One touched down near the Richmond Virginia Stake Center, reported Church News contributor Becky Robinette Wright. Trees were uprooted and roofs damaged in nearby neighborhoods, but the Church building was not harmed.

Large-scale Hurricane Ivan relief efforts were also being sponsored by the Church in the Caribbean.

  • In Grenada, where Ivan damaged 90 percent of the buildings, an air shipment of about 20 pallets laden with food, hygiene kits, first aid items and other emergency relief supplies were distributed to members and others.
  • A chartered cargo plane delivered 75 tons of emergency relief supplies to Jamaica Sept. 20, Brother Flake said. Included in the shipment were some 3,000 food boxes, each packed with sufficient food to sustain a family for about two weeks.
  • A 25-ton humanitarian shipment was also flown to the Cayman Islands, where 50 percent of the island's homes were rendered uninhabitable. Food, hygiene kits, plastic sheeting, tarps and other relief supplies were included.

Meanwhile, members and others victimized by Hurricane Frances along Florida's southeast coast were recently assisted by more than 1,200 LDS Floridians. Work crews — all sporting "LDS Emergency Services" T-shirts — gathered at staging areas Sept. 18 in the Stuart Florida and Cocoa Florida stakes. There they collected work orders and maps, headed to impacted areas and began a weekend of patching roofs, clearing trees and restoring hope.

"Everybody came with such a great attitude," said Orlando Regional Welfare Chairman Douglas B. Carter.

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