Nothing like a Category 4 hurricane to ruin your day, should you happen to be in its path. When it keeps on raining, the levee’s going to break, as the song goes. Well, this time the levees near New Orleans apparently held as Hurricane Ida made landfall nearby and dumped a bunch of rain. Sixteen years ago with Hurricane Katrina, it was a different story. This is your chance to share your own personal hurricane story in the comments. But first let’s talk about the larger Mormon emergency response story: semi trucks full of relief supplies, Mormon chapels used as temporary shelters and relief centers, and LDS volunteers (including local missionaries) supporting Helping Hands squads — the yellow shirts crews. I’m hoping one or two of your stories include service given or received through a yellow shirts crew.
A little background. About a dozen years ago I attended a stake conference Saturday evening session where an LDS fellow who was an emergency relief official spoke at length about the LDS response to Hurricane Katrina. It was fascinating. I honestly can’t recall whether he was a federal official with FEMA who happened to be LDS or whether he was strictly within the LDS response organization, but he had a lot of experience and related a lot of details. Semi trailers are pre-loaded with supplies (blankets, clothes, food, water, hygiene kits, and so forth) and ready to be sent in as soon as roads are clear and local officials allow travel into affected areas. LDS members in surrounding areas are somehow always ready and willing to provide volunteer assistance, donning yellow shirts and marching in with shovels and chainsaws. The LDS response capacity is truly impressive.
Here are a few short paragraphs from a Mormon Newsroom story dated September 1, 2005, titled Church Providing Relief to Hurricane Katrina Victims. I have no doubt similar aid is on the move today in response to Hurricane Ida.
Emergency relief supplies and food commodities from Church storehouses in the southeastern United States have been delivered to Church meetinghouses serving as shelters and relief centers in the disaster area.
Congregational leaders are distributing the much-needed supplies to Church members and their neighbors regardless of religious affiliation. Supplies are also going to inland Church buildings temporarily housing storm evacuees.
Fourteen truckloads of pre-positioned food, water and emergency equipment have already been delivered to Church buildings in the coastal areas devastated by Katrina’s winds, storm surge and consequent flooding. And more aid is on its way from Salt Lake City.
Twelve semitrailer loads of additional supplies have left the Church’s central storehouse in Salt Lake City over the past few days en route to the southeast to resupply the regional storehouses and selected meetinghouses.
Your tithing dollars at work. Something to be proud of. I’m fairly sure the Church’s capacity to provide this sort of response is built on the logistical backbone of the Church welfare system, with well-stocked warehouses scattered around the country and a fleet of trucks that regularly move goods from warehouses to local areas for distribution to church members in need. No doubt some of you readers are familiar with that operation as recipients, as bishops or Relief Society Presidents working with recipients, or as warehouse workers or truck drivers. On the one hand, it doesn’t take much to build an emergency relief component on top of that existing operation. On the other hand, the LDS Church actually did it, and not many other church organizations could or can pull that off. We’ve got the money, we’ve got the resources (warehouses, trucks, volunteers), and we did it. Cryin’ won’t help you, prayin’ won’t do you no good … but a bunch of Mormons with trucks and shovels will get the mud out of your basement and give you two boxes of food and essentials.
Now it would be possible to take a rather cynical view of this and say the Church does this just to produce some good PR. Your tithing bucks directed to preparations plus your volunteer hours organized to assist disaster victims equals good PR for the Church and maybe some proselyting payoff. I doubt that line of thinking plays a major role in the decision to mount LDS disaster relief initiatives. Most of the good PR is noticed only by Church members. I’m sure there are hundreds or thousands of disaster relief recipients who are truly grateful and who, in the future, think nicer things about their Mormon neighbors, but I doubt there are many disaster relief conversions. I think this is just a case of good Christian service. So kudos to the Church for undertaking this challenging task. And congrats to anyone and everyone who has participated as a volunteer assisting this type of response.
So there is a lot to talk about in the comments. I doubt anyone in New Orleans is going to chime in, since they are no doubt busy with other tasks today and may not even have power or Internet or phone service. But the rest of you have a thing or two to share.
- Got a hurricane story? The closest I came was getting rained on for four days straight while doing some consulting work on Chuuk (used to be called Truk for you WW2 buffs). There was a hurricane hovering about 200 miles offshore. In the Pacific, they call them typhoons.
- Got a Katrina story? I grew up on the West Coast. I’ve got earthquake stories. In the mountain states, it’s wildfire stories. In the Midwest, it’s all about cold, cold winters, which is why they all move to Arizona or St. George sooner or later. Back East, I don’t know. Fill me in.
- Got a Mormon emergency response story? Or maybe a Helping Hands story? I want to hear it.
The Church is really good at getting out helping clean up after disasters like IDA. My only knock is that when they mention the clean ups. . They make it sound like they are the only ones helping. They should always include all that other Churches and Civic organizations that help along side them. There are a lot of other organizations that provide more relief than the church.
I think this post wins this year’s “post with the most Led Zeppelin references” award.
I live in the south and have been through a few hurricanes and tons of tropical storms. Inland enough where I am not an idiot for staying put and I think I prepare more than most. I don’t book a cruise during hurricane season as things can change too quickly. I have been close to hurricanes many times and donned a yellow (ish) shirt to help muck out homes, clear fallen trees, and deliver supplies where needed. It is hard, dirty, exhausting, and a bit dangerous work. Remember in the gulf coast, the temps will be high 90’s and very high humidity and may only get to the low 80’s in the early morning hours. I have even helped clean a temple once.
I have seen where the church’s response is impressive. Other churches of course are out and many religious folks are out right next door helping others. Mormons are not alone in helping. But I have observed that the Mormon crews often are trusted a bit more as we usually have some clean-cut crew of teens up to fat old men. I have seen a crew of 4 young tattooed guys show up to a house next to us we were mucking out and the homeowners showing thanks, but also giving the volunteers a suspicious look. I can understand it a bit as they are probably thinking “where is all my jewelry and where can I put it where it will be safe given these guys are going into every room and emptying all the furniture and even tearing out built-in cabinets?”
It is a great help when they can converge really quickly and help clear out the house and some drywall so the damage can stop progressing. Hiring out help like that takes time and time can end up helping those without insurance greatly.
Of course I have seen a bit of undeserved pride in these crews and a feeling of “we are so much more effective than all these other crews.” It bothers me and I wish we could just be glad to give service, but most volunteers had a good heart.
Generally I really hand it to the church in this area. They use their strengths to help others when they are down and out.
I know someone who used to work in the church’s welfare department. They have food, shovels and everything else you mentioned. But what I didn’t know is that they have generators ready to ship too. This person told me a story about a storm knocking out power to an entire region years ago, and as soon as they got clearance to move, he was the one driving the truck loaded with generators, following the truck with the food and emergency supplies. Truly an impressive response. The generators were hooked up at the stake center that was open for use by anyone. He stayed and worked until the power came back on a few days later. Then he drove the generators back to the warehouse.
Humanitarian donations are used for these efforts. Few tithing dollars, if any, are used for humanitarian work.
Brisbane, and for that matter most of the east coast of Australia were in drought from 2000 to 2010. The dams were below 30% causing water restrictions. The murray darling river (like mississippi) was no longer flowing. Then we had a rain event, the tail end of a cyclone. It filled the dams, but continued to rain. The dams are for water storage, but also flood mitigation for Brisbane. At the height of the rain event the dam managers relesed water. Plus runoff, plus king tide, which all added up to flooding.
We owned a rental property about 5m above river level, but back 250 meters, and the flood water came just below the kitchen benchtops on the second level. It took 4 days before the water went down and we could get to our house. Brisbane is a city of 2 million people and only 200,000 were affected by the flooding.
After the water receded volunteers from the community came to help. Tradies with high pressure cleaners, and people with brooms and shovels. They were called the mud army. People drove around offering food and cold drinks. There was a tremendous community spirit.
When I went to church on Sunday only one family had joined the mud army, the rest were waiting to be told by priesthood leaders what to do. The church organized the helping hands to go to a community club that had been flooded, the following Saturday.
The insurance company would restore our house or pay out the money. We took the money and my wife and I spent the next year demolishing the second level, and then rebuilding a modern open plan 5 bedroom, 5.5 bathroom house.
We have just sold the house, for about $250,000 less than similar houses that were not flooded, but there is a class action against the dam managers, and we hope to get the loss made up.
The truckloads of supplies is only in America. And community goodness (the world?) is quicker and greater than the church.
Climate change is making our world more vulnerable to extreme weather events. Unprecedented fires in western US, and Europe, and flooding in various places. We need to support efforts to prevent climate change from continuing the damage that has already started. We have been entrusted with thas earth, and we are destroying it.
I grew up back east, and people always talk in terms of whichever big hurricane devastated the local area. In 1972, Hurricane Agnes hit our small area in central PA very hard. The next house up the road from ours was underwater up to the second story. Our house (we actually bought it a couple years after) had water over the apple trees that were at the bottom of the hill the house was on. There were several buildings at the nearby quarry that blew into the deep quarry water (up to 400 ft in the center), and became diving sites (and still are today). One of the buildings was very close to the water’s edge with the roof being only 15 feet below the surface, and I used to walk out there to look at it because it freaked me out. My only other real hurricane connection was watching on the news when Hurricane Sandy hit a few years ago, and seeing that the boardwalk at Seaside Heights was underwater. We lived near there when I was 11 and used to go to the boardwalk all the time. Seeing the rides sticking up out of the ocean was disconcerting.
I think the Church’s focus on helping hands during a disaster is one of the best things the Church does, and it pays dividends in several ways aside from good PR: 1) Church members develop empathy for the people helped, 2) we do alleviate suffering, and 3) it helps create leadership skills and a sense of community and meaning in the lives of members.
Colorado 2013 floods, was an RSP at the time. So very much to do and being done, by so very many people in the community. Our fellow saints were quite busy side by side with many others for months afterward. Our wet-dry vac went more places than we did. Then kinda never quite made it home (it was OK, after what it had sucked up, wasn’t 100% on wanting it back either.) But those insta boxes from the Church loaded with gloves and masks, those were a blessing… and they sent so many!