“Midwestern U.S. Saints Rally against Flood Damage,” Ensign, Oct. 1993, 75–76
Sandbagging and relief efforts became common activities among Church members in the midwestern United States when the Mississippi River and its tributaries began to overflow their banks in June.
Final reports indicate that seventy-seven LDS families were displaced. Some of these families were evacuated due to contaminated water supplies or other flood-related dangers. All of the LDS families received shelter from friends or relatives. Some members are making plans to clean up, while others have already purchased homes out of the flood plains, said Joel Orgill, president of the Davenport Iowa Stake.
“There has been no damage to any of our Church buildings, remarkably,” said Lyle Cooper, area welfare director for the central, northeast, and southeast areas of the United States and Canada. Church buildings have all been built on ground high enough that the floodwaters did not reach them, he said, though several had their water supply threatened or cut off. Water in a Fairview Heights Illinois Stake meetinghouse in Godfrey was cut off because the municipal waterworks was flooded. Meetings there were relocated to the Edwardsville meetinghouse.
Members responded to the needs of those affected by the flooding by filling sandbags, serving meals, distributing water, opening their homes and ward buildings to those in need of relief, and helping in shelters provided for displaced residents. Volunteers helped the Red Cross and other community services as well as individual families.
Saints in the Columbia Missouri Stake worked with several agencies to help families get back on their feet. Generally, one displaced LDS family was assigned to each ward or branch, and members helped in any way they could until the assigned family was able to move back into a home, said Columbia stake president John Jorgensen.
The Carbondale meetinghouse in the Cape Girardeau Missouri Stake was activated as a Red Cross shelter, said stake president Larry Watkins. “We housed about fifty-five people of other faiths. We set up cots furnished by the Red Cross in the classrooms for use as bedrooms. We served about four hundred meals each day. We had adults, young adults, and others who volunteered, as well as Red Cross volunteers, to staff the building twenty-four hours a day. There was a bond of love and camaraderie that developed. The people were just wonderful about giving service and were blessed for the service they rendered.”
Several wards held only sacrament meetings so members could help with relief efforts. “Members who work during the week could help on Sunday with the sandbagging and other volunteer efforts,” explained Neal Lewis, president of the St. Louis Missouri North Stake.
Assistance and offers of help were plentiful from across the country. The Church sent a truck carrying twenty-nine pallets of food and other supplies from Salt Lake City to Salvation Army workers in St. Louis August 2. Wheelbarrows, shovels, rakes, chain saws, generators, pumps, and other such items were also sent to St. Louis. Members in the Des Moines Iowa Stake were offered help from other stakes in the area as well as from travelers and residents from other states.
“We’ve had a great outpouring of people willing to help us. There have been calls from other states. We’ve even received packages from the young women in the Logan (Utah) Sixteenth Ward, full of food, toys, and cleaning supplies. People want to help in whatever way they can,” said George Dee Bankhead, president of the St. Louis Missouri South Stake.
In many stakes, there was no need for more sandbaggers because the rivers had either crested or were receding, and in some locales the waters had not receded enough for major cleanup work to begin. “The big thing now is waiting for the waters to recede,” said Brother Cooper. Cleanup efforts in some areas are not expected to begin until October.
Many Church activities had to be canceled because members were separated by impassable floodwaters. A girls’ camp in the Cape Girardeau Missouri Stake was canceled because one-third of the girls were isolated from the rest of the stake by the swelled river, making transportation to the activity impossible.
For the most part, Church leaders feel they have been fortunate. “We have been very blessed that not more members have been affected by the flood,” said President Bankhead. President Lewis agreed: “There has been a limited number of Church members affected when you consider the scope of the situation.”
Severe rain storms caused the flooding along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and their tributaries beginning in June. Approximately seventeen million acres in nine midwestern states were flooded, with some of the worst flooding occurring in Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri. The flooding contributed to forty-eight deaths and caused an estimated $10 billion in damage. In many areas, rivers did not crest until August.