An Area Seventy is pleading for Latter-day Saints — and anyone else, for that matter — to combine their voices and petition heaven on behalf of his fellow North Carolinians besieged Sunday by driving rain and rising floodwaters.
“We’re asking all who are willing to pray with us; pray that this storm will speed up and move on,” said Elder Matthew S. Harding, a Raleigh resident whose service covers much of the storm-weary Tar Heel State.
“We are also praying that the riverbanks will hold — that would be a tremendous blessing,” he told the Church News. “But we are prepared to accept the will of the Lord and we’re working hard taking care of people.”
Hurricane Florence was downgraded Sunday to a tropical depression, but that’s of little consolation to Latter-day Saints and their neighbors who continue to endure relentless rainfall and ongoing flooding.
And they worry the worst is yet to come.
Members in storm-impacted regions of the state were experiencing a mix of emotions during an “unforgettable” Sabbath Day.
First and foremost, they were grateful that no members or missionaries have suffered physical harm during the ongoing natural disaster that has claimed 15 lives. (All missionaries serving in vulnerable areas were evacuated prior to the storm’s arrival.)
Also, the power of Hurricane Florence was weaker than originally forecast. “We see that as a miracle and we’re grateful for that. We’re already seeing the effects of people’s faith and prayers,” said Elder Harding.
Still, the Area Seventy acknowledges there are difficult days ahead.
Even as members in North Carolina communities such as Morehead City or Harkers Island were focusing their attention Sunday on clean up and service, others in cities such as Lumberton and Fayetteville anxiously await possible widespread flooding.
Church-provided building supplies and provisions will surely prove priceless in the coming weeks and months. Besides sharing their prayers, Elder Harding is asking members across the globe to find opportunities to offer Hurricane Florence disaster relief by visiting JustServe.org.
Situations around the region include:
— Impassable roadways have turned the coastal city of Wilmington into a veritable island.
“The members in Wilmington are pretty resilient and they’re lifting up the other Saints, but [the situation] is dire,” said North Carolina Wilmington Stake President David Glew.
Floodwaters were inundating “a growing number” of member homes, forcing evacuations. Meanwhile, the major highways into the area, Interstate 40 and U.S. 74, were not accessible Sunday.
While communication in Wilmington has been fairly reliable, “most of the members in my stake have no power,” he added.
While Wilmington has survived its share of hurricanes, including Hurricane Fran in September 1996, the city of 120,000 has not suffered the amount of rain that fell from Florence, the Associated Press reported.
Latter-day Saints in Wilmington did not gather Sunday for formal Sabbath Day services. Instead “they were either sheltering in place or helping people in need in their neighborhoods; that’s how many were worshipping today,” said President Glew.
— In the inland city of Fayetteville and surrounding communities, members were looking out for one another even as a swollen river threatened many of their homes.
“As the floods have come, we’ve been able to evacuate people to other member homes,” said Fayetteville North Carolina Stake President Jeffrey Quick. “We have wonderful members who are welcoming and anxious to serve.”
Inside the stake boundaries, floodwaters have entered multiple member homes in the cities of Clinton, Dunn and Lumberton. Sabbath services were cancelled across the stake as members nervously prepared for what’s ahead.
“The rivers are expected to crest tomorrow, so it’s only going to get worse for us in the next couple of days,” said President Quick. “We’ve just got to get this rain out of here, or it’s just going to keep adding to the rivers.”
Rain is forecast in the region for the next two days.
— Kinston North Carolina Stake President David Walker said Sunday that the homes of approximately 250 member families in his stake have suffered some degree of damage, with about 50 “significantly damaged.”
Hit notably hard was the riverside city of New Bern.
Again, difficult days are ahead. While floodwaters in communities such as Morehead City, Harkers Island and Havelock are receding, the worst “is yet to come” in Kinston where the Neuse River continues to swell and is not expected to crest until Wednesday.
The anticipation is excruciating, said President Walker. “It’s like being a child and knowing your punishment is coming. The wait is often worse than the punishment.”
— Hurricane Florence has exacted a painful, ongoing price in many North Carolina cities. But Latter-day Saints say they are grateful none among them has suffered alone. The “gospel community” is providing spiritual and temporal support.
While Sunday services were cancelled in many hurricane-affected wards and branches, the weather was clear enough for about 100 members of the storied Harkers Island Ward to gather in their meetinghouse.
Inside a chapel with no electrical power, they sang “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” administered the sacrament and listened to a brief sermon anchored to the teachings of King Benjamin.
“We were small in numbers, but there was a wonderful spirit,” said Emily Hancock Nelson. “It was wonderful to partake of the sacrament and be reminded of the Atonement and also that when we serve others we are serving God.”
Then it was time to get to work.
Small work crews were dispatched across Harkers Island and neighboring communities — patching up roofs, chopping up fallen trees and removing water-logged furniture and material from homes.
Members with running water in their homes were also inviting over fellow members for a much welcome warm shower and to perhaps wash a load or two of laundry.