Natural Disasters Affect Members Worldwide
November 1998

“Natural Disasters Affect Members Worldwide,” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 112

Natural Disasters Affect Members Worldwide

Hurricane Georges struck several Caribbean islands and the U.S. mainland during September. A branch president’s child died in the Dominican Republic, and about 125 member families lost their homes. In Puerto Rico, about 20 member families lost their homes.

“Trees were denuded, broken, or uprooted, power lines and poles were broken, and roofs and some of the homes made of wood were destroyed,” reported Neil Van Leeuwen, a public affairs missionary serving in Puerto Rico.

Dean M. Davies, president of the Puerto Rico San Juan Mission, said: “Nuestra casa es su casa [Our home is your home] has taken on a new meaning as member homes are opened to the homeless. Members of the San Juan stake traveled to distant locations to assist in the cleanup and repair of members’ homes.”

In the hard-hit Dominican Republic, several Church meetinghouses were damaged. The temple under construction in Santo Domingo was not damaged. “The biggest problem is the tens of thousands of downed trees and telephone and electricity poles, which have closed hundreds of roads,” reported David R. Stone, president of the Dominican Republic Santo Domingo West Mission.

In the Mesopotamia Valley area of San Juan, Dominican Republic, full-time missionaries followed spiritual promptings in the middle of the night to move more than 30 members and others who had taken refuge in a Church meetinghouse. The people crowded into the missionaries’ pickup truck, and the pickup with two missionaries running behind it crossed a flooded bridge not long before it collapsed. Later, the meetinghouse and surrounding houses were found destroyed by mud and debris.

Local leaders in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic organized relief efforts. Several Church-owned satellite dishes were damaged, but many were repaired in time to receive transmission of the October 1998 general conference.

On 4 August 1998 two earthquakes struck off the coast of Ecuador near the resort town of Bahía de Caráquez, 130 miles southwest of Quito. One Church member was among three people killed in the earthquake. No damage was reported to Church property, and full-time missionaries were reported safe.

During August, extensive flooding occurred along the Rio Grande River near Del Rio, Texas, and Ciudad Acuña, Mexico. In Del Rio, a Church member drowned, 9 member families experienced severe damage to their homes and cars, and another 25 member families experienced some property damage. In Ciudad Acuña, the homes of 22 member families were reported flooded.

“Brethren on both sides of the Rio Grande River worked harmoniously and efficiently to procure and deliver relief items,” said Brother Jean Whetten, Mexico North Area welfare agent.

Kim Allred, Primary president in the Eagle Pass Texas District, said: “Our youth in the Church have been serving at the civic center and with the Salvation Army. This is the gospel in action.”

During the first week of September, rains from a tropical storm caused flooding along the Pacific Coast of southwestern Mexico. About 30 member families in the Tapachula and Tapachula Izapa stakes and the Arriaga district lost homes or possessions in the floods, but no members were seriously injured.

“Neighboring stakes sent several tons of food and water and emergency funds,”reported Aurelio Valdespino Ortiz, national director of Church public affairs for Mexico. “Help was difficult to provide to members because highways and secondary roads were destroyed.”

About 1,700 miles up Mexico’s Pacific Coast from the flooding in Tapachula, Hurricane Isis caused damage during the first week of September to the homes of some 50 member families in Guasave, a town of about 25,000 people. “The water rose very quickly, and many people did not have time to get their belongings up onto their housetops,” reported Sister DeeAnne Whetten, Mexico North Area welfare agent. “It was very heartwarming to see the love that the members had for one another in the Guasave Ward and Alameda Branch.”

Several member families went to the Guasave meetinghouse for shelter, and other members took refuge in government shelters. Working together under the organization of stake leaders, members delivered mattresses and food to the homes of victims.

In response to floods that devastated China during the summer, the Church provided charitable funds. Chinese ambassador Li Zhaoxing responded: “This is just another sign of our excellent friendship between China and the Church.”


A scene of destruction caused by Hurricane Georges in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo courtesy of Joan G. Van Leeuwen.)