Lethal flooding has prompted President Clinton to declare 43 of Georgia's 159 counties either a disaster area or in a state of emergency. The emergency has brought to the fore a contingent of well-prepared and experienced LDS volunteers who have provided expert relief efforts.
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Council of the Twelve and Elder Alexander B. Morrison of the Seventy and president of the North America Southeast Area were scheduled to visit some of the disaster areas during the weekend of July 16-17. (The Church News will publish a report of that visit in the July 23 issue.)From central to southwest Georgia and into Alabama and the Florida panhandle, flooding has been the worst in memory.
The flooding came in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Alberto, the first of the hurricane season, which spawned in the Gulf Coast on July 2 and brought torrential rains to much of the southeastern United States. The most severe damage, as of July 12, was reported in Georgia.
In the area of Albany in southwest Georgia, according to Columbus Georgia Stake Pres. Ritchie M. Marbury III, some 14,500 acres (23 square miles) were under water, and 8,500 homes were flooded, leaving 22,000 people homeless as the Flint River rose to 25 feet above flood stage July 9.
Pres. Marbury said 50-60 Church members in Albany and Cordele are among those who were evacuated from their homes; several members' homes were flooded. As of July 11, 28 people had died in the floods or in flood-related situations, but no members of the Church have been killed or injured, according to Pres. Marbury.
A civil engineer, Pres. Marbury has been pressed into service not only as a stake president who is the regional welfare chairman but also through his job as engineer for the Lee County Utility Authority.
"The highest flood in the history of the area occurred in 1925," he said. "The records in my office say it was 36.6 feet. This flood now has caused the Flint River to rise to 43 feet, which is 5 feet above Albany's levee." President Marbury said the river was expected to crest at 45 or 46 feet.
Much of the city of Albany was under water by July 9. Pres. Marbury said the Albany Ward meetinghouse was designated an official Red Cross shelter, housing 90 people. Because the building was being used as a shelter, only sacrament meeting was held there July 10. He said members have been instructed to come to sacrament meeting in their work clothes on July 17. After a brief meeting, they will resume work as volunteers to help clean up in the aftermath of the flood.
Church members have been key volunteers in helping during the emergency, according to Pres. Marbury. "Our stake took a contingent of volunteers to help after Hurricane Andrew hit Florida (in August 1992). We never dreamed the experience we had there would be so useful here at home in organizing and implementing relief efforts," Pres. Marbury said. "Some of the Church members who were involved helping after Andrew are providing invaluable service here.
"One of those members, Bill Pitts, who was called as the regional disaster coordinator for Andrew, is now managing two shelters in Albany, housing about 400 people. Another member, Stan McWhorter, is in charge of the food service for all the shelters in Dougherty County. He's responsible for preparing more than 10,000 meals to feed 3,000 people a day at the shelters."
President Marbury said the Palmyra Nursing Home in Albany had to be evacuated. "Many of the home's residents there are being sheltered at Albany High School, which is where Brother McWhorter is providing the food. So far, nobody has missed a meal at the shelters," President Marbury said.
"Ron Tucker, who went to Andrew with us, is managing the shelter in the ward meetinghouse and is the standby shelter manager for others since Brother Pitts is managing two shelters. Brother Pitts is in Westover School shelter, where there are 350 people.
"Everybody is in very good spirits, not only the Church members but also the entire city. People everywhere are just doing a marvelous job working together. Instead of saying,
Oh, look at all my problems,' they're asking,What can I do to help you?'"
One example of such selfless service, he said, is that provided by Nancy Cartnell, a member of the Albany Ward. "She lives by herself, and was one of the first people flooded out," Pres. Marbury said. "She works for the City of Albany Engineering Department. Rather than worrying about the things she lost, she went to the department and manned the telephones and mapping area, serving as a resource. She worked all night taking care of emergencies and never expressed a concern about her losses. She is typical of the Church members who are flood victims. The first thing they did after getting flooded out was to help someone else.
"Several members have gone out in boats, paddling to homes to help bring belongings out for other people. There's no end to what people are doing to try to help. People have gone days without sleep. Since the Albany Ward meetinghouse is an official Red Cross shelter, it's being staffed full-time by volunteers who are Church members. Among their duties has been supplying food to the Red Cross and other volunteers. The nurse assigned to the shelter at the meetinghouse is not a member of the Church; she worked 30 straight hours before anyone was sent to relieve her. Everyone is doing a superb job.
"Another Church member, Janet Keeton, found out about a week ago that she has cancer, and that it was very serious. She had an operation scheduled for July 12. The operation had to be postponed because the hospitals are flooded. The floor of her home is under two feet of water. She and her husband, Gene, are staying in the shelter at the Church. They have dozens of friends who invited them to stay in their homes, but Janet and Gene chose to stay at the shelter and help other flood victims. Gene is not a member of the Church, but he's working as hard as anybody over there."
Help has come not only through individual Church members but also from the Church on the local and regional levels and from Church headquarters.
Pres. Marbury attended a meeting Monday, July 11, in which city and county officials were planning relief efforts. "We're scheduling work crews from the Church to help with cleanup operations," Pres. Marbury said. "In the meeting, one of the commissioners said they were short on food in Lee County. Albany is in (neighboring) Doughtery County, which had already begun receiving goods from federal food programs. Lee County had not yet qualified for that assistance. I was asked if there was anything the LDS Church could do to help. I said, `We'll have a tractor-trailer load of food here before noon tomorrow.' I thought everybody was going to get up and hug me, they were so thrilled.
"A tractor-trailer with food and supplies was already on its way to Albany from the Church's regional storehouse in Atlanta. I just asked that it be diverted to Lee County, where the Leesburg First Methodist Church is serving as a warehouse for food and supplies. I told the pastor that we would bring whatever they needed and leave it totally to his discretion to distribute."
Pres. Marbury said the LDS Church had already delivered two tractor-trailer loads of food and supplies to Doughtery County. A shipment of clothing from the Utah Bishop's Central Storehouse in Salt Lake City arrived Wednesday, July 13. Further shipments will be considered as needed. LDS Social Services is preparing to provide counseling to affected members as requested. Several hundred members in work crews from surrounding stakes are assisting in clean-up efforts.
"The Church is doing some very significant things here not only with members but also with the community," Pres. Marbury said.