Florida, Mexico recover from Wilma

Church sends aid to Cozumel, Cancun; volunteers mobilize in Fort Myers stake

Less than 24 hours after Hurricane Wilma hit the Fort Myers Florida Stake Oct. 24, Church members from a neighboring stake started repairing roofs.

They had been trained by priesthood leaders. They had names and addresses for all Church members in the area on a spread sheet. They had downloaded maps to members' homes. Immediately, they set up a staging area and a temporary Bishops' Storehouse and went to work.

"They are just like the U.S. Marines," said President Stephen Thompson of the Florida Fort Myers Stake. "It was wonderful."

As of press time, no missionaries or members in Mexico or Florida had been reported injured in the disaster, the 21st storm in the busiest Atlantic hurricane season on record.

After causing extensive damage in Mexico Oct. 22-23, Hurricane Wilma, a category 3 storm, came ashore in southern Florida. Wilma battered Florida for about seven hours with heavy rain and winds, damaging buildings and knocking out electricity to an estimated 3.5 million homes. Many meetinghouses in the area were damaged; the steepled of the Miami beach building was destroyed.

In Mexico, where the storm pounded the Yucatan peninsula for more than 36 hours, the damage was worse. Hundreds of families sought refuge in Church meetinghouses in Cozumel and Cancun, where two meetinghouses received substantial damage.

Communications in the area were also seriously damaged, making it difficult for the Church to get a complete assessment.

In addition, major floods were reported in Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Cozumel. Between 30 and 40 percent of the population in Cancun suffered some damage to their housing.

In response to the storm, the Church purchased six truckloads of food, water and other supplies in Mexico that will be shipped into Cancun, said Nate Leishman of Church Emergency Response.

Brother Leishman noted that even though the storm didn't wreak the damage some feared, it will still be "an expensive storm." Many Church members, he said, are employed in areas relating to the Mexican tourist industry — which was hit hard by Wilma.

Florida will also see an economic impact from the storm, he added. The Church has shipped 12 truckloads of emergency supplies, including generators, chainsaws, and food and water.

"Florida was pretty well prepared for this," Brother Leishman said.

President Thompson said, with the exception of a few hundred roofs to repair, the members of his stake fared well. Volunteers from other states, who came to aid in Katrina and Rita cleanup, will not be mobilized this time. "We are not contemplating bringing people in from out of state," he said.

In fact, he said, the area received greater damage during last year's hurricane season.

"For a category 3 storm, it is virtually miraculous," he said.

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