“Chilean Saints Show Self-Reliance During Flood,” Ensign, Oct. 1986, 74–75
Church members in Chile rallied to provide aid to victims of the heavy flooding that hit central Chile in June. A series of torrential rainstorms caused the Mapocho, the Tinguiririca, and other rivers in the central zone to sweep over their banks.
Many members in central Chile living near rivers or low-lying areas lost their homes and all their worldly possessions. Others were displaced while waiting for the waters to recede.
Walls of mud and trees blocked rivers and caused extensive damage to bridges, isolating many areas for days. A section of the Pan-American Highway was washed out south of Santiago, leaving travelers stranded and making relief efforts nearly impossible. Because telephones and roads to Santiago were cut off, it was difficult for flood victims to communicate their needs to those outside the stricken area.
On June 19, Bishop Miguel Soza of the Molina Ward, Chile Curico Stake, was able to contact Church administrative offices and report the critical situation there. Conditions were especially bad in Lontue, a small town lying almost entirely under three feet of water. Some members and nonmembers were temporarily finding shelter on the second floor of a recently completed chapel there.
After three attempts to reach flood victims by airplane had failed, a helicopter provided by the Chilean armed forces was able to land June 20 with emergency medical supplies and food rations. President Jose Luis Ferreira of the Curico stake accompanied the supplies.
President Ferreira had been trying for several days to reach Lontue. “I honestly didn’t understand the gravity of the situation until I got there,” he said. “We live in an area where rivers often leave their banks, but the Tinguiririca (River) looked like five rivers combined. You couldn’t believe it until you saw it.” He estimated that every home in Lontue had at least two feet of water in it, and that the property of 80 percent of the members there had suffered extensive damage.
Members and leaders of other stakes in Chile unaffected by the flooding were very much concerned with the tragic situation. President Emilio Diaz of the Chile Talca Stake, while watching a television report, felt moved to invite the members of his stake to hold a special fast. He wanted to “put the gospel in action to unite his members and obtain relief for the members in Lontue.”
Members contributed approximately one hundred thousand pesos (five hundred American dollars) to aid the members in Curico. “Some members said to me that now they could see the Church is not passive, but active,” said President Diaz. Bishop Osvaldo Munoz of the Los Platanos Ward reported that after the fast, members in his ward rejoiced in their efforts and in the good feelings it gave them.
President Oscar Figueroa of the Santiago San Bernardo Stake said that Wilfredo Lopez, his regional representative, called him and asked, “‘President, how is the faith in your stake?’ I told him that it was progressing. He then said, ‘How would you like to accept a challenge?’ He called for a special fast. ‘I believe that my stake is willing to do all the leaders ask of us,’ I replied.”
Oscar Mauricio Oyarzo, a ten-year-old boy living in the ward, said that “after the sacrament meeting when the stake president spoke, I felt the Spirit of the Lord and knew what I should do. My parents weren’t in agreement because they are not members. But I felt in my heart that if something belongs to me, I should give it away to someone in need.”
President Gustavo Barrios of the Santiago Nunoa Stake organized a stake-wide effort to gather clothing to send to the flood victims. “One bishop noticed a pair of pants that he knew belonged to a young man in his ward who didn’t have any other Sunday-best pants,” he related.
In Santiago, the greatest damage was suffered by members of the Lo Barnechea Ward in the Santiago Las Condes Stake. There, several families lost their homes to the flooded Mapocho River. Approximately one hundred members and nonmembers lived in the LDS chapel for several days until other arrangements could be made. It was reported that everyone showed great respect for the chapel and helped keep it clean.
Although short-term financial aid from the area office was needed by the stake president for the Lo Barnechea Ward, members of other wards in the stake who were unaffected by the flooding donated enough money that the president returned all of the emergency funds to the area office within a week.
Stakes from as far away as Punta Arenas (fifteen hundred miles distant) and Puerto Montt in the south, and Calama (nine hundred miles away) in the north, helped their needy brothers. Clothing and household goods worth nearly two million pesos and more than a half million pesos in cash were donated by Chilean Saints.
Captain Clima of the armed forces, a nonmember who flew the first helicopter into Lontue, was very impressed by the efforts of the Church. He told President Ferreira, “It was incredible to see the organization of the Church in action. It was particularly wonderful to see the huge box of medical supplies that was given to the Red Cross in Lontue, which permitted many to receive medical attention.”
On July 4, a caravan of eight vehicles took the donated clothing and household goods to the cities of Lontue and Rengo. The supplies were placed in the hands of priesthood leaders and their respective welfare committees to distribute according to need.
Municipal government officials have expressed thanks to the Church for permitting temporary use of buildings in Lontue, Rengo, Nancagua, and Lo Barnechea to provide shelter for flood victims.
Correspondent: Craig Hill, area controller, Santiago Chile Church administrative office.