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Astounding devastation

In Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, more than 1 million people — including thousands of Church members from numerous stakes in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama — have been displaced from their homes and will not be able to return for months.

The hurricane, which killed hundreds and caused what insurers estimate may be $25 billion of damage throughout the United States' Gulf Coast, is being called one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history.

After hitting Florida, Katrina strengthened to a Category 5 storm over the Gulf of Mexico but weakened slightly and came ashore in New Orleans early Aug. 29 as a Category 4 storm with winds of 145 mph. Government leaders In New Orleans ordered a "total evacuation of the city."

The storm then moved through Mississippi and Alabama — with hurricane-force winds extending up to 105 miles from the center.

Dubbed by some national media outlets as, "the storm that destroyed everything," Katrina left more than 1 million people without power and water and caused massive flooding. More than 80 percent of the city of New Orleans was under water.

As of press time, there were no reported deaths or injuries of Church members, although many have not been accounted for. Early assessments indicate several meetinghouses and numerous members' homes in the Slidell and New Orleans Louisiana stakes and in the Gulfport Mississippi Stake have been destroyed. Approximately 10 meetinghouses throughout the disaster area are being used as emergency shelters for members and others.

Kevin Nield, director of Bishops' Storehouse Services, said 14 semi-trucks with Church supplies — including water, food, hygiene kits, tarps, generators and chain saws — reached the disaster zone within a matter of hours, having been mobilized before the storm's landfall.

Also, supplies, from bishops' storehouses in Georgia and Texas, were delivered to Mobile, Ala., and Slidell and Alexandria, La. Twelve more semitrailer loads of supplies left the Salt Lake City Bishops' Storehouse the week of the disaster.

"Local Church leaders are simply trying to assess what is most needed," he said.

That task alone is formidable as communication remains difficult in some areas due to damage of phone systems and equipment and the number of people displaced by the disaster.

Brother Nield noted that the Church will continue to meet the needs of local Church and community members. Flooding since the hurricane struck threatens to contaminate water supplies with bacteria — making the Church's large supply of hygiene kits invaluable, he said.

Brother Nield expressed appreciation for Church members who have contributed to Humanitarian Services. "Because of the long-term effort, we can respond to the moment of greatest need," he said.

E-mail to: sarah@desnews.com