Church assisting in aftermath of weather disaster in Midwest, South

The Church is providing emergency relief following a series of holiday season weather-related disasters that claimed dozens of lives and destroyed or severely damaged thousands of homes and buildings.

Tornadoes, heavy rains, ice storms and flooding caused death and destruction in the final days of 2015 in several communities in the United States’ Midwest and South. Meanwhile, heavy snowfall closed roads from New Mexico to Iowa.

“That whole area has been smacked pretty hard,” said Bruce Muir, who directs the Church’s Humanitarian Emergency Response office. “It’s been bad for a lot of folks.”

The recent severe weather is being blamed for at least 36 deaths. All missionaries are safe and there are no reports of death or injury to any members. Church meetinghouses are also in good shape, said Brother Muir.

Texas tornadoes

Folks living in the greater Dallas region won’t soon forget the frightening weather events in the days following Christmas. On Dec. 26, at least 11 tornadoes touched down across the Dallas area. Hardest hit was Garland — a Texas city 20 miles northeast of Dallas where eight people died and many others were injured, according to USA Today.

Reports had winds reaching 175 mph in some tornadoes.

“A total of 854 homes were impacted — including the homes of 12 member families,” said Brother Muir. “[Almost 150 homes] were destroyed and another 188 suffered major damage.”

Most of the impacted home owners were insured, so Church welfare officials are waiting for insurance matters to be resolved before becoming involved in rebuilding efforts.

“But we have been able to send supplies in,” he said.

Donated provisions include food boxes, hygiene kits and cleaning kits. The Church also shipped yellow Helping Hands vests for volunteers during Church-sponsored clean-up efforts.

“Our members have been out en masse,” said Brother Muir, adding that hundreds of Latter-day Saints from the greater Dallas regions have answered calls to help. Local priesthood leaders are also working closely with other local church groups “to help however we can.”

Historic flooding

In the days following the Texas disaster, Winter Storm Goliath triggered massive flooding in Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma and Arkansas and other states. The historic, far-reaching storm caused 29 deaths and the destruction or serious damage to thousands of homes and buildings.

The Mississippi River and most other waterways in Missouri and Illinois flooded after 10 to 14 inches of rain fell on sections of the two states, according to The Weather Channel.

Members in the region have fared reasonably well. Flooding caused significant damage to one member home in Champaign, Illinois. Deluges damaged three other member-owned homes in St. Louis, Missouri.

The Church has dispatched relief supplies and provisions to impacted areas and continues to monitor the situation closely with local priesthood and area leadership.

“Our members are out doing whatever is needed,” said Brother Muir.

Weather and welfare specialists say the effects of the flooding will continue for the foreseeable future.

“It’s going to continue to be messy for a good part of the next month,” said Brother Muir.

At press time, residents in Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana were on high alert as the high waters of the Mississippi River moved downstream.

Priesthood and welfare leaders near the flood sites and at Church headquarters will continue to monitor the fast-changing situation and respond as needs arise.

[email protected] @JNSwensen

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