Five LDS die in Chilean mudslides

Five Church members were among some 100 killed during massive mudslides that followed torrential rains in Chile's Atacama Desert, one of the world's most arid areas.

In the disaster, some 20,000 people were left homeless and 6,000 homes were destroyed, including 30 homes of LDS families. Two members were among those listed as missing and another five were reported as seriously injured. Church property was not damaged.The disaster began June 18 when heavy rains began to fall in the Atacama Desert. No previous rain had fallen since 1986. The desert downpour about 800 miles north of Santiago began at 1:20 a.m. and lasted more than four hours, deluging a city that had not had even a light shower for five years.

The rains caused a wall of mudslides that swept loose sand from the higher-altitude desert hills and coursed through Antofagasta toward the Pacific Ocean, leveling houses in its path and sweeping cars and their passengers into the sea, witnesses said.

The rain also flooded and burst numerous drinking water tanks, worsening the floods, said witnesses. After the torrent stopped, the city was in chaos with mud-choked streets, power and telephones out of service, and nearly all businesses and industries closed. Within a few days the mud dried and dust storms tormented workers as they removed tons of mud and sand from buildings and streets.

In the aftermath of the storm, five meetinghouses in Caliche and Antofagasta housed refugees where some 400-500 members and non-members stayed during the recovery period.

After the storm passed, missionaries and members joined the clean-up efforts. About 10 tons of Church relief, under the direction of Elder Jacob de Jager of the Seventy, president of the South America South Area, provided food, water and other supplies.

Also included in the supplies were bedding and mattresses, and a substantial amount of medicines. Picks, shovels, wheelbarrows and tents, for help in removing mud, were also shipped.

"The leaders and members have done a tremendous work helping the members who suffered as well as the many non-members in the community who lost their homes," said Elder de Jager.

"Pres. Jaime Leyva of the Antofagasta Chile Stake, and Pres. Ricard Palma of the Caliche Chile Stake ably coordinated relief action and received much praise and recognition from the local government for their efforts."

Local and area Church leaders are prepared to help rebuild homes lost in the mudslides and provide additional assistance as needed.