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Missionaries gather ‘hundreds of visitors’ into basements in Nauvoo historic sites during intense windstorm

Church historic sites in Nauvoo, Illinois, resume normal operations directly after wind speeds of upwards of 100 miles per hour during intense derecho

Missionaries, members of the Nauvoo and British Pageant personnel and visitors at the Church’s historic sites in Illinois were forced to take shelter in basements as winds upwards of 100 miles per hour ripped through the state on Thursday, June 29.

Nauvoo was hit by a derecho, which is an intense, long-lasting windstorm that can generate hurricane-level wind speeds.

Fallen trees in front of a historic building in the Nauvoo historic sites.
Fallen trees in front of a historic building in the Nauvoo, Illinois, historic sites on June 29, 2023. | Provided by President Craig Dalton

As severe storm warnings — which later turned into tornado warnings — sounded on cellphones at the historic sites, missionaries were quick to help gather visitors into the historic buildings’ basements to take cover from the storm.

“All of our missionaries in the historic sites followed the protocol that is set up for tornado issues and went into the basements of the historic buildings and other buildings that are designated as storm shelters,” said President Craig Dalton, site leader at the Illinois Historic Sites.

No one was hurt at any of the sites, and President Dalton said that was largely due to the missionaries’ efforts to help visitors at the sites take cover.

Missionaries stand outside a historic building in Nauvoo.
Missionaries stand outside a historic building in Nauvoo, Illinois, on June 29, 2023. | Doug Mills

“They did fabulous in following that protocol, because they invited literally hundreds of visitors to get off the streets and come down and seek shelter, both in Nauvoo and Carthage. ... Miraculously, there were no injuries to anyone ... and that’s really attributable to everybody seeking cover immediately,” President Dalton said.

The storm uprooted several trees, some of which damaged cars, but no damage was sustained by the historic buildings.

Some of the performing missionaries in Nauvoo, who normally put on shows and concerts from May to October, helped lift the visitors’ and each others’ spirits while the derecho raged outside.

President Dalton spoke with leaders of a youth conference group from Norman, Oklahoma, who were invited by a group of missionaries to join them in a historic building’s basement during the storm.

“Some of the individuals of the youth conference group were pretty shook up and worried, and the missionaries basically just led them in songs and did things to help them feel reassured,” he said.

An uprooted tree lays in front of a white house.
High wind speeds uprooted and destroyed trees all across historic Nauvoo on June 29, 2023. | Doug Mills

The sites’ horses, or “four-legged missionaries,” as President Dalton referred to them, also braved the storm, despite being exposed to the elements on their hitching posts.

“I was praying big time for those horses,” he said. After the storm subsided, he found a group of six horses at the Nauvoo sites encircled by trees, “just standing there like nothing happened.”

“I view that definitely as divine intervention, and we are so grateful for that,” he said.

Many of the historic sites continued normal operations directly after the storm. Although electricity has not been restored by the afternoon of Friday, June 30, missionaries are still putting on performances for visitors at many of the sites, which are open for tours as facilities crews clear branches from the grounds.

“I should really give our Lord our collective gratitude,” said President Dalton. “Considering the number of trees, the intensity of the winds ... once again, there were no injuries here, and no significant damage to buildings.”

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