Tri-state Helping Hands response arriving this weekend after Hurricane Sally deluges U.S. Gulf Coast

It was an anniversary no one on the east end of the U.S. Gulf Coast wanted to celebrate or relive.

But 16 years to the day when Hurricane Ivan began battering that region in 2004, Hurricane Sally made landfall at roughly the same spot on Sept. 16.

That latest iteration of severe weather across the U.S. Southeast prompted plenty of Ivan memories that local Latter-day Saints and their neighbors were likely hoping to forget.

Still, they “welcomed” Sally with trademark resilience.

“We have trees that have fallen, some flooding and power outages … but overall, we’re doing pretty good,” Pensacola Florida Stake President Kevin Curtis told the Church News the morning after Sally’s arrival.

Flood waters move on the street, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, in Pensacola, Fla. Hurricane Sally made landfall Wednesday near Gulf Shores, Alabama, as a Category 2 storm, pushing a surge of ocean water onto the coast and dumping torrential rain that forecasters said would cause dangerous flooding from the Florida Panhandle to Mississippi and well inland in the days ahead.(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Flood waters move on the street, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, in Pensacola, Fla. Hurricane Sally made landfall Wednesday near Gulf Shores, Alabama, as a Category 2 storm, pushing a surge of ocean water onto the coast and dumping torrential rain that forecasters said would cause dangerous flooding from the Florida Panhandle to Mississippi and well inland in the days ahead.(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) Credit: AP

No missionaries or members were injured during the storm and no Church-owned properties suffered significant damage.

Still, the homes and properties of more than 100 Latter-day Saint families were damaged, most significantly in Pensacola and the neighboring communities of Gulf Breeze and Navarre, reported Elder Douglas Carter, an Area Seventy.

In the first weekend following the hurricane (Sept. 19-20), a small-scale Church-sponsored Helping Hands volunteer effort focused on cleaning up the homes and properties of Church members.

“We were able to take care of about 90 percent of our affected members last weekend,” said Elder Carter.

Fortunately, he added, most of the significant damage from Sally was limited to fallen trees and branches — so few Latter-day Saint families have been flooded out of their homes or otherwise displaced.

“There’s not as much muck-out work as we originally thought there might be,” he said.

This weekend’s (Sept. 26-27) Helping Hands relief effort will be far larger in reach and numbers.

“We’re looking to bring in about 3,000 Helping Hands volunteers from 35 stakes from Florida, Alabama and Georgia,” said Elder Carter. The crews will focus their efforts on approximately 3,000 work orders from across affected Gulf Coast communities in Florida and Alabama.

“There are a lot of people hurting down here,” Elder Carter said.

Helping Hands teams are expected to begin arriving at command centers in Florida and Alabama on Friday, Sept. 25. Check-in times are being staggered to adhere to social distancing practices.

About two-thirds of the volunteers are expected to camp on the grounds of local stake centers and other Church-owned properties, where portable toilets and temporary showers are being installed.

Traditionally during large-scale Helping Hands projects, volunteers gather as one early on Sunday morning for a brief sacrament meeting before heading out to work. But for the upcoming Hurricane Sally relief effort, participating wards will meet in smaller congregations because of COVID-19 concerns

Sally was the fourth hurricane to make landfall in the United States this year after Hanna, Isaias and Laura, the most to hit by the same date in 16 years, CNN reported.

The hurricane was downgraded into a tropical storm after reaching landfall, then further weakened into a tropical depression by day’s end. Still, the slow-moving storm will be long remembered as a destructive rain-producer.

“We had 30 inches of rain in Pensacola — 30-plus inches of rain — which is four months of rain in four hours,” Ginny Cranor, chief of the Pensacola Fire Department, told CNN.

A man watches floodwaters, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, in downtown Pensacola, Fla. Hurricane Sally made landfall Wednesday near Gulf Shores, Alabama, as a Category 2 storm, pushing a surge of ocean water onto the coast and dumping torrential rain that forecasters said would cause dangerous flooding from the Florida Panhandle to Mississippi and well inland in the days ahead. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
A man watches floodwaters, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, in downtown Pensacola, Fla. Hurricane Sally made landfall Wednesday near Gulf Shores, Alabama, as a Category 2 storm, pushing a surge of ocean water onto the coast and dumping torrential rain that forecasters said would cause dangerous flooding from the Florida Panhandle to Mississippi and well inland in the days ahead. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) Credit: AP

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of residents in Florida and Alabama were without power in the storm’s aftermath.

“Power is being restored quickly and fuel is [widely] available in the area,” Elder Carter said on Wednesday, Sept. 23.

Sixteen years ago, Hurricane Ivan destroyed or severely damaged scores of Latter-day Saint homes in Jamaica, Grenada and other neighboring islands before continuing north to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

There is one key difference between the two hurricanes. Ivan was fast-moving, with a landfall speed of about 13 mph. But Sally seemed in no hurry, moving at 2 mph — a pace easily matched by most walking humans.