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LDS missionaries ran to safety during quake in Philippines

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CEBU CITY, Philippines — Sister Bethany Crowley of Clinton, Utah, was sitting at her desk in the Philippines studying her scriptures on Tuesday morning when the LDS Church missionary felt a giant truck passing by her apartment.

Then she realized it wasn't a truck. It was a major earthquake.

"Doorways!" she yelled to her companion as she flipped over her chair and ran. The two young women stood in the doorways of their apartment in Cebu City watching a nearby grocery store sway from the shock of the 7.2-magnitude earthquake centered on Bohol Island, an area where Sister Crowley served earlier this year.

Due in some cases to quick thinking and effective training, Sister Crowley and all of the missionaries serving in the Cebu East Mission and the other 20 missions of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Philippines survived the quake, described by a Filipino seismologist as packing more energy than 32 Hiroshima bombs.

"All missionaries of the church serving in this region are safe and accounted for," according to a statement released by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The quake killed at least killing 144 people, according to officials. The earthquake struck the central island of Bohol near Carmen on Tuesday morning, the Associated Press reported. Carmen is 40 miles southeast and across the Cebu Strait from densely populated Cebu City, which also sustained heavy damage.

Cebu Province, with 2.6 million people at the 2010 census, is the second-largest province in the Philippines. The population of Bohol Province is 1.25 million.

The LDS Church statement said several structures related to the church suffered damage.

“Church leaders are working with local officials to identify and address local needs," the statement added. "Several member homes have been destroyed or damaged, and some church buildings have sustained minor damage from the quake.”

The church's Cebu City Philippines Temple also had minor damage, the Deseret News confirmed. Independent sources said the Angel Moroni statue, which faces east on LDS temples, rotated 90 degrees to face south.

Sister Crowley, who interrupted her studies in chemical engineering at the University of Utah to serve a mission, is serving in the Cebu East Mission, which includes part of Cebu Province as well as Bohol. She wrote about her experience in her regular letter home to her parents, who received her email Tuesday night. The earthquake struck at 8:12 a.m. local time on Tuesday, or 6:12 p.m. MDT on Monday, making for a long day's wait for her mother, Sherri Crowley, who posted her daughter's letter on her missionary blog.

"We're happy that she's safe," Sherri Crowley said.

"The worst that happened in my apartment," Sister Crowley reported in her letter, "was a few cracks in the wall re-opened, and a bottle of shampoo fell over. But in the (grocery store) next door, glass doors shattered, and merchandise broke. One missionary apartment collapsed, but the elders ran outside first."

Sister Crowley wrote that her zone leaders took safety precautions when they saw the cracks in her cement apartment wall. They instructed Sister Crowley and her companion to stay the night with another pair of sister missionaries.

In addition to the minor damage to the LDS temple, news reports said the quake damaged many churches, including the collapse of the roof of Bohol Island’s Church of San Pedro, built in 1638, the New York Times reported. Officials said as many as 10 other historic churches were damaged.

Sister Crowley mentioned that damage in her letter home: "Over in Bohol, the big ancient Catholic churches that I walked by every day collapsed. Crazy."

Another missionary, Sister Teresa Davis, arrived in the Philippines to begin serving in the Cebu Mission last week. She, too, wrote home about the experience in a letter her family posted on her mission blog.

"My first earthquake," Sister Davis wrote. "The whole house was shaking but it only lasted for maybe a minute. None of us were hurt and nothing really fell down."

An Eagle, Idaho, family hadn't heard from their missionary yet, because she is serving on in Tagbiliran, the capital of Bohol, site of the quake's epicenter and where damage was worst.

Sister Jocelynn Clegg's mother Sandra posted this Tuesday night: "We were pretty anxious waiting to hear but were relieved to hear from her mission president last night in the middle of the night. 'She is okay!' She has been moved to stay in a home of the senior couple serving in that area and will stay there until the aftershocks have stopped and her apartment can be assessed for safety. We are feeling so blessed. Today is her p-day (preparation day) and the usual day that we get her email, but the mission office emailed today and said that it might be a few days until we hear from her because there is no power on the island right now."

The sister missionaries are representative of the biggest part of the LDS Church's missionary surge — the number of sister, or female, missionaries soared from 8,100 in October 2012 to 19,300 this month, according to the church. That is an increase of 140 percent.

The LDS Church has 21 missions in the Philippines, including the two in Cebu. The church created the Cebu East Mission on July 1. The church added 58 new missions this year as the number of missionaries jumped from 58,700 in October 2012 to 80,000 this month following church President Thomas S. Monson's announcement lowering the minimum age for missionaries.

There are more than 660,000 LDS Church members in the Philippines.

“A magnitude 7 earthquake has an energy equivalent to around 32 Hiroshima atomic bombs,” said Renato Solidum, director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, during a televised press briefing. “Compared to the 2010 Haiti earthquake — that had a magnitude of 7.0, this one had a magnitude of 7.2, slightly stronger.”