“Saints Assist Flood Victims,” Ensign, Oct. 1994, 75–76
The worst flooding in the history of south Georgia in the southeastern United States was eased somewhat by the outpouring of assistance from Latter-day Saints all over the world, including more than six thousand volunteers from neighboring states and stakes.
Even before floodwaters receded from their record levels, local Church leaders were coordinating relief efforts with those of other religious and community organizations. Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles visited stricken Saints and delivered a message from the First Presidency on July 17. The message read: “We are deeply moved by the suffering of flood victims in Georgia. Church representatives are in frequent contact with local members and others involved in this crisis. We trust that the aid extended thus far is bringing comfort and relief to those in distress.
“Our Heavenly Father is mindful of His children. Through His help and the efforts of all concerned, this adversity will be surmounted and [will] become a source of strength. Our prayers continue in behalf of the people of Georgia, and we are grateful for the opportunity to extend assistance in this hour of need.”
Elder Ballard was accompanied by Elder Alexander B. Morrison of the Seventy, president of the North America Southeast Area. The two General Authorities attended several meetings and also visited some members whose homes had been damaged or destroyed by the floodwaters.
The flooding followed Tropical Storm Alberto, which began July 2. Within days, Flint River had risen to more than forty-three feet, leaving 14,500 square acres (23 square miles) in southwest Georgia under water, some 8,500 homes flooded, and more than 22,000 people homeless. Members rallied to help in any way they could.
“Our stake took a contingent of volunteers to help after Hurricane Andrew hit Florida [in August 1993],” said Ritchie M. Marbury III, president of the Columbus Georgia Stake. “We never dreamed the experience we had there would be so useful here at home in organizing and implementing relief efforts.”
Food, water, and emergency equipment were shipped from the Atlanta bishops’ storehouse in three truckloads. Clothing from Deseret Industries was also distributed, as well as additional emergency equipment from the Utah bishops’ central storehouse. LDS Social Services provided counseling to affected members as requested.
But perhaps even more important than the tangible assistance was the moral support and hard work offered by members as they rallied to offer whatever help they could. Nancy Cartnell, a member of the Albany Ward, was one of the first people flooded out of her home. Instead of dwelling on what had happened, Sister Cartnell, an employee at Albany’s city engineering department, spent hours manning telephone lines and mapping out stricken areas.
The Albany meetinghouse was an official Red Cross center, staffed full-time by volunteers from the ward and local full-time missionaries. They supplied food to Red Cross workers and volunteers.
Prior to the arrival of thousands of volunteers over the July 23–24 weekend, local ministers met with Latter-day Saint leaders to organize cleanup efforts. Needs were assessed and prioritized, and names of the volunteers, mostly priesthood brethren, were entered into a computer so assignments could be made.
In just two days, more than fifteen hundred houses were cleaned. In some instances, the houses were stripped from floor to ceiling, down to building studs. Damaged furniture was hauled away, and hundreds of repairs were made. Heat and humidity made the efforts difficult, and volunteers were instructed to be aware of snakes or alligators that might have crawled into buildings.
A week earlier, a group of five hundred Latter-day Saint volunteers had spent a weekend cleaning up while floodwaters still covered much of the area.
“There is basically no one here who doesn’t know of the LDS Church and what the Church is all about,” said Kurt Anderson, bishop of the Albany Ward. “It has been wonderful to see how well the different churches in the community have worked together to see that people from all religions have been taken care of.”