Hurricane in Central America, Flooding in Texas
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“Hurricane in Central America, Flooding in Texas,” Ensign, Jan. 1999, 80

Hurricane in Central America, Flooding in Texas

During late October and early November 1998, Hurricane Mitch struck Central America, becoming the area’s worst natural disaster of the 20th century, with rain-caused floods and mudslides compounding the damage. It is estimated that more than 10,000 people were killed, mainly in Honduras and Nicaragua, with thousands more missing.

Remarkably, only one Church member among 90,000 Honduran members and 28,000 Nicaraguan members is known to have died. However, according to an emergency status report released by local Church authorities soon after the disaster, thousands of members suffered losses.

In Honduras, 3,227 members were evacuated, 640 members were reported injured or sick, 1,413 member homes were temporarily uninhabitable, 429 member homes were permanently uninhabitable, and 17 Church meetinghouses were damaged. Because of transportation problems and crop damage, nearly 8,000 members needed assistance with food, clothes, and medicine.

In Nicaragua, 580 members were evacuated, 40 members were reported sick or injured, 122 member homes were temporarily uninhabitable, 27 member homes were permanently uninhabitable, and one meetinghouse was damaged. Nearly 3,000 members needed help with food, clothes, and medicine. Members were also affected in Guatemala, Belize, and El Salvador.

“Approximately 4,500 people found refuge and security in our buildings and care from our leaders,” reported Elder Salomón Jaar, an Area Authority Seventy in Honduras. “We have a great feeling of gratitude to God and the Church for watching over and caring for us during these difficult times. We have seen the priesthood of the Church in action watching over the Saints and others who sought help.”

The Church has provided considerable assistance in both funds and supplies. Funds were provided for purchasing supplies locally, and the United States Air Force and other organizations helped transport hundreds of thousands of pounds of Church-donated emergency supplies, such as medicine, clothing, rice, beans, powdered milk, soap, plastic sheeting, blankets, and foam beds. Local stake presidents, bishops, and branch presidents coordinated relief efforts.

Texas Members Help after Flooding

When a stalled storm system drenched the area of San Antonio, Texas, with more than 26 inches of rain during 36 hours in October 1998, three rivers overflowed their banks and flooded several communities. More than a dozen Church members lost homes, vehicles, and household goods.

“Everyone has been involved in helping during this time of tragedy—the priesthood, Relief Society, Young Men, Young Women, and even the Primary,” said San Antonio North stake president Frank Dittmar. “We are here to serve and love.”

Rosie Hernández of the New Braunfels Ward said: “We lost mostly everything, including my husband’s truck he uses to get to work. The water rose to a level of four feet inside our trailer. Through it all, our faith has been a sustaining influence. Without the knowledge that life is eternal and that our families can be forever and that Heavenly Father loves us, we would not have gotten through this so well.”

Nearly 550 volunteers participated in a Saturday cleanup project in New Braunfels, wearing LDS-themed T-shirts so law enforcement officials would recognize them as Church members. “Most worked inside individuals’ homes as small groups and stripped carpet, wallboard, and insulation and moved furniture out to the street to be hauled away,” reported San Antonio West stake president Ned Lunt. “A good portion of these homes had been completely submerged under water.”

Pat Cantrell, a member of another faith who was assisted by Latter-day Saint volunteers, said: “You are such lovely people. It is amazing what you have done for us, and I can’t thank you enough.”

After the cleanup project, President Lunt said, “Many were able to feel burdens lifted in a way that can only be done by the true spirit of Christ in selfless service.”

In Honduras, members unload sacks of beans for distribution to hurricane victims. (Photography courtesy of Salomón Jaar.)

A scene of hurricane-caused flooding in La Lima, Honduras.