“Flood of Help Follows Disaster in Southern Utah,” Ensign, Mar. 1989, 74–75
The new year began in heartache for some residents of the St. George, Utah, area as a twelve-foot wall of water came out of the night to inundate their homes and apartments near the Virgin River.
But thanks to early warnings, no one was injured, and before New Year’s Day was over, many of those affected were expressing gratitude for neighbors and friends who had pitched in to help with the cleanup.
A dike broke at the Quail Creek Reservoir upstream, sending some 30,000 acre-feet of water rolling down the river very early on New Year’s Day. Two bridges were washed out, and three others were damaged. Livestock, farm buildings, and equipment were also carried away.
As the waters passed through St. George and Bloomington, about fourteen miles downstream, some fifty to sixty homes were flooded, as well as a large apartment complex. Flooding damaged members’ homes as far south as Littlefield, Arizona, said President Steven Peterson of the Bloomington Utah Stake.
Residents had been evacuated earlier when it became evident that the leaking dike would give way. LDS wards in St. George, working with the Red Cross, opened their meetinghouses to the evacuees, and Dixie College also opened its doors. But the next morning, as residents began to return to areas adjacent to the Virgin River, they found some homes completely gutted and others filled with tons of mud and gravel, their furnishings swept away. Some houses suffered only light water damage but lost thousands of dollars’ worth of exterior improvements or landscaping.
Even before Utah Governor Norman Bangerter could declare Washington County a disaster area, some two hundred area residents were walking across the bridge into Bloomington that Sunday morning, carrying shovels and buckets. Elsewhere, volunteers from the St. George Twenty-first Ward arrived at the damaged apartment complex before 7:00 A.M. to help clean up; many stayed on through the night. Some wards canceled meetings so members could help those in need.
The Bloomington Second Ward was the hardest hit. The home of Bishop Bill Lamb, which was not damaged, became a center for coordinating cleanup efforts. Work crews arriving from wards and stakes throughout the area were assigned wherever there was a need, and homes of non–Latter-day Saints were included in the cleanup. Non–Latter-day Saint residents of the area toiled beside their LDS neighbors in helping those whose homes had been damaged.
The cleanup was truly a community effort. Several local businesses furnished food to home owners and those who were assisting them. For a week after the disaster, LDS wards and groups continued to furnish meals to members and nonmembers in need.
It was estimated that in the initial coordinated effort, more than ten thousand service hours were donated by members of the St. George Utah, St. George Utah West, St. George Utah East, Bloomington Hills Utah, and Santa Clara Utah stakes. Help and equipment were also provided by the St. George Fire Department and local U.S. Bureau of Land Management personnel.
Bishop Wayne Everett of the St. George Thirteenth Ward was one of the volunteer workers. “We were taken aback by the amount of mud, and at first it seemed impossible to clean out the homes. Now I can’t believe how much work was done in just two days.”
There was work for everyone who cared to help. While some dug mud out of homes, for example, others washed clothing or performed a variety of cleaning chores. “There was a spirit of unity and strength that sustained those whose homes were damaged and those who came to help,” President Peterson said. Members of the community and visiting press representatives alike commented on the love and sacrifice that were evident.
Little acts of kindness stand out in some home owners’ minds. Like everyone else, one family saw fine furnishings and personal possessions from their basement hauled away to the dump. But a few days later, someone returned the family’s large wall clock; a volunteer who felt the item was salvageable had taken it home and carefully cleaned it.
Although cleanup efforts wound down after a week, there is still much repair and rebuilding to be done. But for those families affected by the flood, the task now seems less formidable. Joyce Griffin, a flood victim from the Bloomington Fourth Ward, commented, “This may not be the best way to clean out a basement, but there was a lot more good that came out of this than bad. It sounds strange, but I’m really glad for the experience.”
Correspondent: Wallace Brazzeal, St. George Region public communications director.