Hurricane Ivan batters Gulf Coast

Caribbean Church members left reeling by destructive storm; Church assisting

Add Hurricane Ivan to the growing list of devastating storms that have tormented Church members in the Caribbean and the U.S. Southeast during the 2004 hurricane season.

A massive weather event that was on the move even as the lingering effects of Hurricane Frances were still being felt, Hurricane Ivan destroyed or severely damaged scores of LDS homes in Jamaica, Grenada and other neighboring islands. The storm then continued north to the U.S. Gulf Coast. At press time, Ivan was battering sections of south Alabama and Florida's panhandle.

While Ivan claimed the lives of more than 75 people, there were no reports of deaths to Church members. Two members were injured in Grenada: one woman suffered a broken hand, while a man injured his foot. All missionaries had been accounted for at press time with the exception of two elders serving in the Cayman Islands, where communication had been severely hampered. The Cayman government had reported there were no fatalities and the elders' priesthood leader, President LeRoy R. Turner of the Jamaica Kingston Mission, is certain the young men are fine.

Meanwhile, the Church is responding — offering relief in various forms throughout impacted areas.

The Caribbean island of Grenada will take months to recover from Ivan's wrath. About 90 percent of the homes on the island sustained some damage, said West Indies Mission President Hendrik Dorenbosch, who visited Grenada a few days after the hurricane passed.

"I've never seen anything like it, and I hope to never see anything like it again," said President Dorenbosch, recalling the devastation. Missionaries who had been serving in Grenada were evacuated prior to Ivan's arrival.

Water and electricity systems in Grenada were severely damaged. It could take a year before power is entirely restored to the island, President Dorenbosch said. Many of the trees that survived Ivan's powerful winds were stripped of their leaves. So folks left homeless by the storm have been unable to find shade from Grenada's brutal heat.

"The stench is almost unbearable and the heat is oppressive," President Dorenbosch said.

A few members victimized by Ivan found refuge in Grenada's lone Church building, which was only slightly damaged. Looters did kick in a door, but there was little inside to steal. The Grenada Branch was able to gather for sacrament meeting soon after Ivan passed, President Dorenbosch said.

Leaving Grenada, Hurricane Ivan set his sights upon Jamaica Sept. 10-11. The capital city of Kingston did not absorb the direct hit many had feared. Still, the storm caused significant damage. As in Grenada, the suffering being felt in Jamaica won't soon ease. Roofs were pulled from homes and a significant portion of the island-nation's vital export crops were destroyed, said President Turner. Meanwhile, many of the fruit trees that grow wild and provide a dietary staple for much of Jamaica's poor were wiped out.

"Not only are (many people) out of work, but they've got a house that is badly damaged, they don't have a job to earn money, they have no money to buy food and the trees they had bearing fruit in the backyard are gone," President Turner said.

President Turner was left awestruck by Ivan's deadly power. He recalled looking out a window at the mission home and seeing trees being whipped about and uprooted. The noise, he added, was phenomenal. "It reminded me of standing next to a jet airplane engine when it was (revving) for take off."

Prior to the storm, missionaries in Jamaica were instructed to stock up on provisions, find shelter in sturdy homes and stay indoors. President Turner also ordered adventure-minded missionaries to put away their cameras. Hurricane Ivan, he said, "was not a picture taking opportunity — it was a 'get-through-this-thing-safe' opportunity."

As soon as the danger had passed, the missionaries in Jamaica were out cleaning up homes and finding water for hurricane victims. The Church's humanitarian response office also moved quickly to offer relief. An air shipment of 16 pallets of hygiene kits and medical supplies was reportedly flown to Grenada. Further assessments of members and community needs in Grenada and in the Cayman Islands were also expected.

A cargo plane laden with emergency relief supplies, including 3,000 food boxes, was also expected to travel to Jamaica to assist members and others in need.

After passing over western Cuba on Sept. 13, Hurricane Ivan moved from the Caribbean into the Gulf of Mexico. The storm began lashing the U.S. Gulf Coast Sept. 15 with tropical-storm force winds, while waves 50 feet high were created near the center of the gulf. Packing sustained winds of 130 mph, Ivan reached land between Mobile, Ala., and Pensacola, Fla., early Sept. 16. The storm spawned tornadoes blamed for at least seven deaths on Florida's Panhandle and left hundreds of thousands in the U.S. Southeast without power, the Associated Press reported.

At press time, Ivan was moving inland through the U.S. Southeast.

"The storm was so strong and so large that it could go 150 miles inland before it's downgraded to a tropical storm," National Hurricane Center meteorologist Trisha Wallace told the Associated Press. Still, Ivan had reportedly not caused the sort of damage in the U.S. many had feared.

Hours before Ivan's arrival, Mobile Alabama Stake President Harlan G. Spencer was locking anxious eyes on approaching dark skies — while praying for his fellow members and neighbors in south Alabama.

"Many of our stake members have left the area," said President Spencer, adding others had found refuge in stake meetinghouses. A phone tree was established in the Mobile stake to collect information on where members would be when the storm hit.

President Spencer's counterpart to the east, President Mark H. Daniels of the Pensacola Florida Stake, participated in a special, pre-Ivan fast with stake members, praying for blessings. "We're confident the Lord will watch out for us," he said.

Members throughout the Gulf Coast had stocked up on provisions to get them through the days and weeks following Ivan's visit.

"We've been told that we might not have power for three weeks," said Catherine Gardner of the Pensacola Ward, Pensacola Florida Stake.

While stakes impacted by Ivan were expected to initiate clean-up efforts as soon as it was safe, members throughout Florida continue to help victims of Hurricane Frances. A volunteer army from several Sunshine State stakes was expected to travel to Florida's east-central coast Sept. 18 to assist folks living in the Stuart and Cocoa stakes whose homes and property sustained serious damage from Hurricane Frances.

"We expect to put about 1,200 brethren into the most affected areas," said Douglas B. Carter, president of the Lake Mary Florida Stake and chairman of the Orlando Regional Welfare Committee.

Bishops' storehouses in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas are also prepared and ready to respond.

E-mail to: [email protected]