If there is a word that can define the devastation of a hurricane, it might be chaos. Winds gust 100 miles per hour and higher; the ocean surges beyond its bounds spilling over and burying land; tornadoes spin off and wreak destruction. All these create pandemonium scarcely imaginable by those who have not witnessed this devastation themselves. In the wake of chaos, numbers: Dozens killed; billions of dollars of damage; thousands homeless; millions without power, water, and phone service. In 2004, one hurricane after another slammed mercilessly into the Caribbean and southeastern United States coming so close after each other that residents scarcely had time to clean up from one before another came upon its heels.
As each hurricane approached, stake presidents, area welfare agents, and Church welfare specialists counseled with one another in daily conference calls to discuss forecasts, mobilize resources, and offer emotional and spiritual support.
From bishops' storehouses, thousands upon thousands of pounds of food and emergency supplies—generators, chain saws, first aid supplies, tarps, and hygiene kits—were in place, ready to be distributed as soon as volunteer cleanup crews could get into the area to help.
Homeowner Ron Brodzik of Port Charlotte was at a loss about how he would deal with the caved roof and flooded floors in his home. When he looked up, LDS Church volunteers in their "Mormon Helping Hands" T-shirts approached and offered to help. "They came from nowhere," he said, "like God sent them."
"I was trying to pick things up and then I just broke down in tears," Tanya Foley of Punta Gorda, Florida, said, "and then two vans pulled up, and they said they were from The Church of Jesus Christ. And I said, 'You're here!' They got right to work, and it was truly unbelievable. And I was saying, 'Thank you, Lord!' "
Through all the chaos, the welfare program of the Church and its ever-faithful members provided service, strength, and a sympathetic ear. One woman who was in charge of a community center that was trying to restore order to chaos watched as members of the Church in their distinctive T-shirts piled out of vans ready to help.
"Everybody! Everybody!" she exclaimed, her cheeks wet with tears, "The Mormons are here!"— Neil K. Newell, Welfare Services