Saints Clean Up After Northern Utah Flooding
November 1991

“Saints Clean Up After Northern Utah Flooding,” Ensign, Nov. 1991, 110

Saints Clean Up After Northern Utah Flooding

Only a week after heavy rains and a mud slide hit North Ogden, Utah, in September, Bishop Larry G. Florence walked through his ward and pointed to a place where the street, now clean, had previously been covered by six to eight feet of mud and debris.

Bishop Florence, of the Ben Lomond Eighth Ward, North Ogden Utah Ben Lomond Stake, says he had not walked far down the street after the flooding before a man with a rake and a shovel stopped him to ask where volunteers were needed for the continuing cleanup. The bishop directed him to a house on the corner. “And take that man standing by the tree with you. He looks like he needs somewhere to go,” the bishop added.

These volunteers were just two of the more than sixty-one hundred people who helped clean up in the wake of severe flooding and a mud slide, said Nicholas Welch, volunteer coordinator for the city of North Ogden. Within a week, the volunteers put in more than 23,892 hours.

No one was injured in the disaster in this predominantly Latter-day Saint community, although there was extensive property damage.

The destruction began with heavy thunderstorms and flooding on Saturday, September 7. That evening a wall of mud and rocks roared down a canyon and into a North Ogden residential neighborhood, twisting one home completely off its foundation and filling others with mud.

By Sunday, a record 8.4 inches of rain had drenched the area, including the nearby town of Harrisville. Within the next few days, North Ogden had received more than half its average total yearly rainfall, said Richard Myers, the Church’s multiregion public affairs director for the Weber, Morgan, and North Davis county areas of Utah.

Pat Sheehan, public affairs officer for the Red Cross, said 2 homes were completely destroyed, 41 suffered major damage, and 599 sustained minor damage.

Civic and religious groups contributed to the cleanup, including the Red Cross, inmates from the county jail, and Job Corps personnel. Brother Welch estimated that 75 percent of the volunteers were Latter-day Saints. Although many volunteers were called through LDS stakes and wards, some just drove to the disaster area and began helping, Brother Myers said.

After the people finished cleaning one house, they would go to the house next door and continue working. There was “a lot of really spontaneous help,” he said.

The spirit of cooperation among all the parties has been exemplary,” Mr. Sheehan said.

North Ogden Mayor Bruce Dursteler explained that following flooding in 1983, the city put together an emergency response plan patterned after the Church’s organization in stakes, wards, and neighborhoods. Every house received a booklet explaining the city’s emergency procedures. When this disaster occurred, the plan unfolded almost flawlessly, he said.

“The volunteer effort has been tremendous,” said President Marion Brent Chugg of the North Ogden Utah Ben Lomond Stake. He received a telephone call at 1:20 A.M. Sunday asking for volunteers to fill sandbags; he made a few calls to bishops, and within half an hour there were about two hundred people at the gravel pit.

Brother Myers, the public affairs director, said the response attested to the effectiveness of home teachers and visiting teachers, who checked on their assigned families, found out what needed to be done, and coordinated efforts to see that it happened.

“I have never seen so many volunteers—and they all work,” said Chuck Sokolik, a retired U.S. Navy lieutenant commander who helped with the cleanup. “They’re mighty fine people here.”

Brother Myers pointed out one of the major problems faced by the cleanup crews: “Water you can pump out. But mud you have to carry out in a bucket.”

In the Carl Gilbert house, for example, mud poured into an unfinished basement from the back, filled it to the ceiling, and spilled out the lower windows at the front of the house. Volunteers formed bucket brigades to dig out the mud; at one time there were about 150 people around the house. Within three days the basement was emptied, and by the end of the week it was scrubbed spotless.

One night, it was estimated that half of the volunteers were young men and women, Brother Myers said. “I have a real respect for the youth,” he added.

Terry Fullwiley, whose home was destroyed by the mud slide, was surprised to see the number of volunteers. “It was just tremendous, you know. It was a good thing the Mormon church came through for us.”

Mr. Fullwiley received equal praise from his LDS neighbors. Shelia Hadley, at home with her four children, including a baby delivered by cesarean section only a week before, was unaware of the mud slide until someone knocked on her door. Mr. Fullwiley and another neighbor, Douglas Stewart, helped the family to safety.

“We heard Terry went from house to house, neighbor to neighbor, to help people all night,” Sister Hadley said. “I owe him my life and I owe him my kids. … I was totally helpless, and he was an answer to my prayers.”

The Red Cross, working with the Church, provided 4,057 meals during the week of the flooding, Mr. Sheehan said. The Relief Society prepared 90 percent of the meals from food items provided by the Red Cross and donations, Brother Myers said.

Robert Schwitzer said the help was “fabulous.” His wife, Nell, agreed, saying, “We could never in this world have expected it, since we weren’t LDS. We can’t believe they are so gracious. There are not words to express the gratitude we feel.”

One neighbor woman came into the Schwitzers’ house, gathered all the clothes that had been soiled by water and mud, cleaned them, and brought them back, Nell Schwitzer said.

What happened to their home was “a catastrophe. But it makes it so much easier to take when people are around to help,” she said.


Youth dig in during cleanup efforts following flooding and mud slide. (Photo by Richard Myers.)