“A Rainbow of Helpers Appears after Storms,” Ensign, June 1997, 79–80
Members and missionaries were among the first to respond to those in need after a series of tornadoes cut a 260-mile path across the state of Arkansas on 1 March, resulting in 33 deaths and more than 200 injured. The storm, which destroyed homes and downed trees, caused flooding and damage in Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Mississippi. No Latter-day Saints were killed, but eight members were injured—two seriously—and six homes of members were destroyed by tornadoes.
The Little Rock Arkansas Stake sustained some of the worse damage, and members quickly rallied to help those in need. With power and communication systems down, members made their way through rubble-blocked streets to check on fellow members. One Latter-day Saint, Carolyn Bock of the Arkadelphia Branch, was buried under debris in her backyard. Two full-time missionaries, along with other community volunteers, scrambled over fallen trees to reach her home, which was completely destroyed. When the missionaries found her, they gave her a blessing, helped place her on a fallen door, and carried her to a waiting ambulance.
Another member, Tammy Benefield, a 21-year-old college student, was thrown from her trailer during the tornado. A man she did not know carried her more than a mile to a waiting ambulance; she never learned the name of her benefactor.
The same storm system, which set an all-time record of 12 inches of rain in 24 hours in Louisville, Kentucky, brought flooding to many areas along the Ohio River and nearby tributaries, forcing thousands of people from their homes. Rising water destroyed 3 homes of Church members and damaged 26 more. “We were very fortunate,” said Neil Hahl, Cincinnati Ohio North Stake president, who explained that many members as well as the full-time missionaries helped in the cleanup effort.
Fifty missionaries from the Kentucky Louisville Mission aided the local Red Cross in giving help throughout the community. “Their efforts made a big impact,” explained President Hahl. “There have been many favorable comments from nonmembers about the willing help of these young missionaries. Their efforts have been a positive influence here.”
In the New Albany Indiana Stake, which was hit hard with flooding, members responded quickly to help one another. “We tried to see if we could handle the needs within the wards and branches,” said stake president John Crawford. “The Relief Society, young men and young women, and priesthood quorums within the branches and wards affected were the first people to go out and help. They took care of 90 percent of our needs.”
The following week the stake changed a planned service project and sent 54 youth and 15 youth leaders to help member and nonmember neighbors dig out from the flood. “This was an experience they will never forget,” said President Crawford. “They truly were helping and were appreciated.”
The only assistance needed from Church headquarters was a load of canned goods brought in to help stock a Red Cross kitchen. Missionaries volunteered their time to help unload the truck.
Besides the full-time missionaries, seminary and youth groups from surrounding areas also came to help, and Relief Societies gathered blankets, pillows, and cleaning supplies. “It is amazing how many people are willing to help in these situations,” said William Norton, president of the Louisville Kentucky Stake. Calls to offer assistance came from as far away as Idaho and Arizona. Many victims who initially felt shock and disbelief have now “seen an outpouring from everyone. They feel a great love,” added President Norton.
Cyclone Gavin Strikes Fiji
Twenty homes of members were flooded and two seriously damaged when Cyclone Gavin struck the islands of Fiji. Though all members and missionaries were safe, the storm toppled the spire on one chapel and damaged two other chapels.
Tonga Hit by Tropical Storm
Fifty-mile-an-hour winds cut power lines and caused serious damage to banana and coconut crops on Tonga when tropical storm Hina struck the island nation on 25 March. All members and missionaries are reported safe, said Area Authority Pita Hopoate, although a number of families reported damage to roofs of their homes. Three meetinghouses sustained damage estimated at $30,000.