“Friendships, Testimonies Grow during Arizona Cleanup,” Ensign, Dec. 1983, 69
They wouldn’t ask for the opportunity again, no doubt, but many Saints in southeastern Arizona have found their lives were blessed in the aftermath of October flooding that left some of them homeless.
No Church members lost their lives in the flooding, brought on by heavy rains that pushed several rivers over their banks. But the disaster cost the lives of several other Arizonans, including two who died in a helicopter crash during rescue efforts.
The Gila River, the San Pedro River, the Santa Cruz River, and the San Francisco River all overflowed their banks. The result was destruction in parts of eight Arizona counties.
Estimates of damage to property soared above $400 million. Church members were among the many who lost their homes or saw their property severely damaged, and that accounted for the opportunities and blessings that came from the flooding. Testimonies and friendships grew during the following weeks as Church members pitched in to help clean up the damage and provide necessities for members and nonmembers alike.
Priesthood leaders coordinated the efforts of hundreds of volunteers, many of whom traveled long distances to help.
E. Claire Gardner, Regional Representative for the Phoenix Arizona East and Prescott regions, and chairman of the Area Emergency Response Committee, said the willingness of members to donate both labor and funds was exemplary. “The significant and timely assistance seen is a direct result of many Saints following counsel from Church leaders to be prepared and pay a generous fast offering,” he said. “Through such efforts, we were able to have on hand food commodities and other needed items.”
Examples of cooperation were numerous. In Clifton, for instance, business executives and professionals joined students, athletes, coaches, farmers, and other citizens in shoveling mud and digging away silt and debris. Larry Baker of Las Cruces New Mexico Stake put into words the attitude of many of the workers: “It’s not that I’m enjoying this, but I feel good about what I’m doing.”
One young man, who had left home before 5:00 A.M. and traveled for nearly three hours to reach Clifton, spent the day shoveling mud and debris. His comment: “I sure hope I get to come back next week!” He did.
Volunteer workers came to Clifton from the Safford, Thatcher, and St. David stakes in Arizona and the Silver City and Las Cruces stakes in New Mexico, as well as from sister wards within the Duncan Stake that had not been hit so hard by flooding. Stakes as far away as Texas volunteered their help, but their offers were graciously declined because of the distances they had to travel.
In other communities, members were just as diligent in helping clean up the devastation. In Maricopa, for example, where the flood waters reached the four-foot level in some homes, priesthood brethren and Relief Society sisters from the Mesa and Chandler stakes helped clean silt out of damaged homes and businesses. In Marana, Tucson North Stake members assisted one member whose home was lost and more than half a dozen others whose homes were damaged by water.
Brother Gardner wrote in a letter to other Regional Representatives and stake presidents: “The response of Church members in affected areas and throughout the state and region has been truly gratifying. Indeed, many lives have been and continue to be blessed as we help each other.”
Food, clothing, bedding, appliances, and boxes used in cleanup efforts came to flood victims through individuals, stakes, and the Church’s welfare system.
The spirit of helpfulness was everywhere. James Carter, bishop of the Clifton-Morenci Ward, reported that all of the twenty-four families in his ward who were left homeless by the flooding were placed without his help. “Some had relatives to go to, but those who did not were taken in right away by other members of the ward and made more than welcome. I didn’t have to make a single assignment for housing.”
Members in other areas were equally thoughtful in caring for fellow Saints. In Marana, one man whose own home was flooded risked his life crossing a flood-swollen river to check on an elderly sister for whom he serves as the home teacher. Ward members whose houses were undamaged went to a local school which served as an evacuation center, found ward families who had been forced to leave their own property, and took them home.
Brother Gardner summed up the experience: “The past few weeks have taught us all more about being prepared. Also, many have given of themselves, and many, many lives have been blessed as we have all worked together.”—Don L. Searle and Jacquie Felshaw.