Communities in Utah, Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma are recovering from natural disasters that claimed lives, destroyed and damaged homes, devastated farm land and livestock and set in motion thousands of hours of service rendered by Church members.
A fast-moving wildfire near Neola, Utah, burned more than 42,000 acres, killed three people including two Church members and destroyed five homes.
George Houston, 63, and his son, Tracy Houston, 43, of the Roosevelt Utah West Stake, were killed when they tried to help Roger Roberson, 75 who also died in the blaze protect his hay fields as the fire quickly approached.
Alan V. Haslem, president of the White Rocks Branch, said Church members have been "working very hard" on the Roberson farm to help the family. They have been cleaning debris from the fields, repairing farm equipment and sprinkler lines.
"We are doing what we can to help these people get on their feet," President Haslem said. "People here are very generous."
In fact, he said, there have been more offers to help than can be utilized. He added that Red Cross representatives said, in their experience, "they have never been in a place where people are so organized and so willing to help."
In response to the disaster, the Church sent clean-up kits to be used in homes with extensive smoke damage, said DeArmon Batty, regional welfare specialist.
He has also seen an outpouring of support for those who lost homes, fences, outbuildings or livestock in the disaster. "We had neighboring ward and stake members ready to come in. But the people are amazingly self-reliant. What they needed to do they were able to handle. They pulled together and got the job done."
For some people who lost property in the fire, it will take some time to recover, said President Haslem. "But I think in the long run they will come out OK," he added.
Now he prays the devastating wildfire will not be repeated. "We literally haven't seen a drop of rain here. We only had one day of any measurable rain all year. It is way past dry out here. We will be fortunate if this is the only major fire out here."
Wildfires also burned in other areas of Utah. The 4,150-acre Black Rock Gulch Fire burned about 20 miles southwest of St. George, Utah. And the more than 340,000-acre Milford Flat Fire prompted the closure of 93 miles of I-15 from Scipio, Millard County, to just south of Beaver, and 23 miles of I-70 from I-15 to near Richfield, destroyed homes and numerous crops and burned a semi-trailer on I-15.
In addition, the fire the largest wildfire in Utah history forced the evacuation of missionaries serving at the Church's historic Cove Fort. The fort was built in 1867 of lava rock at the request of President Brigham Young, to provide a safe place for pioneer-era travelers to rest as they passed through the area. The fort was constructed by Ira Hinckley, grandfather to President Gordon B. Hinckley.
President Paul R. Thomas of the Beaver Utah Stake said evacuees from Cove Fort spent two nights at the Beaver stake center. "We are not getting burned out, but the smoke is just horrific," he said.
Storms in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas in late June and early July brought water that inundated the Southern Plains, causing widespread flooding. Streams, lakes and reservoirs in the area were full and the ground saturated. Hundreds were evacuated from their homes as a result of the floods.
In Texas, three homes of members were damaged in the Gainesville Ward, Denton Texas Stake; four in the Marble Falls Ward of the Austin Texas Stake; and one in the Granbury Ward, Weatherford Texas Stake, according to a Church welfare report. Four meetinghouses in Texas suffered minor flood or wind damage.
In response to the disaster the Church sent four semi-trailer truckloads of water, hygiene kits and flood kits, said President Stewart W. Dickson of the Austin Texas Stake.
Church members, he said, were engaged from the beginning of the disaster, offering time and resources to those in need, and distributing commodities and other necessities.
Members have gone into the community to remove damaged carpet and sheetrock and begin the drying-out process. "The members' involvement has been absolutely stunning," President Dickson said. "I have not heard any members complaining whatsoever. Help and assistance rendered have gone well beyond the membership. They have reached out to the community."
Flooding forced the evacuation of Osawatomie, Kan., a city of 4,600 built between two rivers. Hundreds of others were evacuated in Independence and Coffeyville, Kan., along the Oklahoma border. A member of the Tulsa Oklahoma Stake was dramatically rescued from a swollen stream, and 10 families in the Tulsa Oklahoma Stake were cut off from the outside by flooding. While their homes were not damaged, they were left without power for more than a week.
In Miami, Okla., one of the hardest-hit areas, 647 structures had been affected by flooding from the Neosho River and Tar Creek, including 236 structures considered destroyed.
Morgan Maguire, a high councilor in the Joplin Missouri Stake who is coordinating relief in the area, said officials are still trying to sort out needs.
In response, the Church sent two semi-trailer truckloads of cleaning and hygiene kits, according to a Church welfare report. A second wave of supplies is en route, said Brother Maguire on July 10.
Only one member home in the area was damaged, so Church members set up a booth at the civic center and distributed generators, wet/dry vacuums, fans and other necessities to community members, who would use them and bring them back for others to use.
"It is going to take many months to get through all this," said Brother Maguire. "The sad part is, some people are going to lose their homes."
He is comforted, however, by knowledge that the Church was there to help. "I can't say enough good things about what is going on in the Church and how quickly they respond. It has been really so appreciated here by everyone."
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