Though they suffered property damage from Hurricane Erin Aug. 3, Church members near Florida's coast were blessed with preservation from loss of life and with memorable experiences in giving service, according to Pres. Kenneth J. Holbert of the Pensacola Florida Stake.
The stake comprises nine wards and two branches in an area about 120 miles by 80 miles. "We've experienced everything from limbs blown off trees to really serious destruction of personal property in homes over that area," Pres. Holbert reported Aug. 7.With gusts up to 100 mph, Erin's path included southern Alabama, southern Mississippi and central Louisiana. But the significant damage was centered on Pensacola and vicinity, according to Church Welfare Services.
Speaking by telephone from his home in Pensacola, where power had just been restored in the wake of the storm, Pres. Holbert said: "The hurricane made landfall at Navarre Beach - our Navarre Ward. The beachfront communities of Navarre, Fort Walton and Destin took the full force of the hurricane as it came off the Gulf of Mexico and made landfall."
Those communities correspond to Navarre and Fort Walton 1st and 2nd wards in the stake.
"The eye of the storm passed most directly over Pensacola 1st Ward," he said. Homes in Pensacola's other two wards were impacted as well.
Households suffered interruption in electrical, water or telephone service, or some combination of the three, Pres. Holbert noted. Damage included trees falling through the roofs of some homes and roofing material being blown away, he added.
"Church buildings fared fairly well, except in the Navarre and Fort Walton wards," he said. "Both buildings have had a bit of structural damage to their roofs."
Piles of tree limbs and debris on roadsides were higher than an adult's height, Pres. Holbert said. He likened it to a canyon road in winter after it has been cleared by a snowplow and the snow is piled high on each side.
Many of the trees blown down in the storm were more than 100 years old.
The Resource Center of Church Welfare Services in Atlanta, Ga., sent its "Spearhead Unit" to assist in relief efforts. "I can't say enough good about them
Welfare Services personnelT," Pres. Holbert said.
On Friday and Saturday, Aug. 4-5, more than 400 Church members from neighboring stakes gave help in various capacities, the stake president said, including a father and son who came all the way from Atlanta.
"On Saturday, we organized ourselves, in accordance with the scriptures, with `captains of hundreds, captains of fifties, captains of tens
see D&C 136:3T. We deployed our members in various parts of the neighborhoods."
The goal was to see to the needs of stake members, but the number of non-member households receiving help probably exceeded the number of member households, he said.
A widow, whose husband had been killed in a car accident some years ago, was one of those who received help. Members spent most of a day cutting, clearing and hauling debris from her home.
"When she returned to her home the next day and saw what had been done, she was so overcome emotionally she could not speak," he said. "She wanted to donate everything she had to the Church."
Pres. Holbert said the home of his neighbor received extensive damage from falling trees. He joined with Church members in prayer at Pres. Holbert's home each day. Three dozen Latter-day Saints helped clear the damage. The man was so impressed, Pres. Holbert recounted, that he said, "I don't know what it takes to be a Mormon, but I feel I could be one."
The experience impressed the man, Pres. Holbert said, even more than a year ago when his health was restored by virtue of a priesthood blessing after a grim cancer diagnosis.
"We've had several non-members offer to donate money to the missionary fund," he said. Some people, hearing that the Latter-day Saints would be holding a sacrament service on Sunday before deploying volunteers to help with relief efforts, desired to join them at the worship service, Pres. Holbert recounted.
Members were so well organized, the stake president said, that the county sheriff's department quickly came to rely on them as a resource, informing them of people who needed assistance.
Pensacola, a city of 58,000, has escaped a direct hit from a hurricane for nearly 70 years. But stake members, Pres. Holbert said, were prepared, having learned from the experience of helping out with relief in the wake of Hurricane Andrew and after flooding in Albany, Ga.
"We learned, for example, never to assume anything, and that we must always ask permission before helping to take debris away," he explained.