“Hugo Was Devastating, but Saints’ Lives Were Spared,” Ensign, Nov. 1989, 107–8
When Hurricane Hugo swept destruction over the Virgin Islands, part of Puerto Rico, and the southeast coast of the United States in September, Latter-day Saints suffered losses and damages to property along with everyone else. But no members or missionaries are known to have been killed or seriously injured.
The storm killed more than fifty people in its sweep over the islands and U. S. coastal areas. In the United States alone, it left an estimated 50,000 people homeless and more that 250,000 unemployed. In South Carolina, it was estimated that monetary damages would exceed $2 billion.
Within hours after the storm passed, help in the form of needed commodities, building materials, labor, or simply comfort was on its way from both Church headquarters and nearby Church units and individuals. After Latter-day Saints living in the damaged area had done all they could to meet the needs of other members affected by the storm, they focused their efforts on helping nonmembers. Missionaries joined in cleanup efforts.
Emergency supplies, including water, food, cooking stoves, power generators, propane fuel, and tools to be used in cleanup efforts were shipped from Church storehouses to several areas affected by the hurricane.
Hugo struck first at the U. S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. In the Virgin Islands, damage was heaviest on St. Croix, where many Church members lost their homes. The storm destroyed prison facilities, freeing prisoners to roam in gangs. Survivors told relatives in the U. S. that the looting and civil unrest were as frightening as the storm. Law-abiding citizens welcomed the arrival of U. S. troops and law enforcement personnel to restore order.
On St. Croix, branch president David Weston and his family, along with missionaries Charles and Marianne De Lany, were instrumental in seeing to the needs of members and others, said Kay Briggs, president of the Puerto Rico San Juan Mission. After Hugo, some sixty LDS families on the island were without food, he said, and there was none to be bought—but their needs were met by the Church’s emergency shipment. It was estimated that a majority of the homes on the islands lost their roofs. The branch meetinghouse on St. Croix was used to shelter some families temporarily.
A number of LDS families in Puerto Rico were also among those who lost their homes, President Briggs said. Shelter was found for all of them. People in some areas had to wait weeks for water and electrical service to be restored.
Members’ homes also suffered severe damage in other parts of the Virgin Islands and the Lesser Antilles—Vieques, Guadeloupe, and St. Kitts (St. Christopher).
In South Carolina, losses were reported by members in most of the units of the Charleston stake, said Max Lehman, first counselor in the stake presidency. He estimated that some twenty families lost their homes to the storm, and a number of other members had to move out of their houses for the time being because of severe wind or water damage. Some families were housed temporarily in meetinghouses.
“We’ve just had tremendous support from the Saints,” President Lehman said. Work parties came from as far away as the Jacksonville Florida Stake, and calls offering help came from as far away as Oregon. Stakes like those in Jacksonville and Savannah, Georgia, donated building materials worth thousands of dollars. The Savannah stake’s Ridgeland Ward set up a food line at the stake center in Charleston, serving people in need, regardless of their church affiliation. For two days, the ward also supplied food to a Charleston dialysis center, said Mitchell Lowther, second counselor in the presidency of the Savannah stake.
In one Charleston area, an LDS work crew met the needs of a member family, then helped five non-LDS neighbors. The neighbors, wary at first, were astounded to learn that there would be no charge for labor or materials.
Charleston stake president Steven Baughman commented that local members seemed “remarkably prepared” for the disaster.
President Lowther said members in the Savannah Georgia Stake felt fortunate that Hurricane Hugo left their area comparatively unscathed. They were eager to help members in neighboring stakes, but because needs were so well met in those areas by local efforts, “we only did about a hundredth of what we wanted to do.”
One of the stakes that suffered heavy damage was the Florence South Carolina Stake. Still, only a handful of members lost their homes, said stake president Brent Koyle.
The Sumter area was the hardest-hit in the stake. The city was without water and power for nearly a week. Bishop R. Latham Harris of the Sumter First Ward said that despite the havoc wreaked by the storm, it was inspiring to see how well-prepared members were to respond to the disaster and how willingly they reached out to others. He noted that one family, after fixing their own home, turned to helping other members fix up their dwellings, leaving repairs on their own commercial investment property until after members’ needs had been met.
Church buildings in all areas ravaged by the hurricane proved to be very solidly built. Only minimal damage was reported to meetinghouses.