PISCO, Peru — An earthquake in Peru and a hurricane in Mexico within a few days of each other demonstrated the speed and flexibility of the emergency response procedures of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“These two disasters have shown that local Church leaders have the resources and the capability of responding to immediate needs by buying and storing emergency supplies locally,” said Dennis Lifferth, managing director of the Welfare Department at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City.
Immediately following last week’s earthquake in Peru — the deadliest one to hit the country in the last 35 years — local Church leaders began assessing the urgent needs of Peruvians — not only those of the Latter-day Saint faith — in the hard-hit port city of Pisco.
While a 747 plane loaded in Salt Lake City with vital medical supplies, surgical instruments, family food boxes, hygiene kits and tarps was making its way to Peru, Elder Walter F. Gonzalez, the Church general authority who oversees the Church in the western part of South America, purchased food locally and opened four chapels to serve as shelters.
Two days after the earthquake, Elder Gonzalez represented the Church at a ceremony at which over 8,000 blankets were donated to Pilar Nores de García, the first lady of Peru, to be distributed to Peruvians affected by the 8.0 magnitude quake.
Soon after the earthquake, a new disaster worked its way toward Mexico. Hurricane Dean was expected to hit Cancun, so local Church leaders in Mexico began stocking food, water and equipment in a facility near the expected hurricane target. When the storm shifted directions, threatening the Yucatan peninsula, Church leaders moved supplies to another facility in Chetumal. As the hurricane began a path back across the country, a third supply facility was stocked.
Technology has also played a significant role in emergency preparedness. Rick Foster, director of administrative services for welfare at Church headquarters, explained that now more than ever before, disasters can be predicted — sometimes even the precise location of the disaster.
“Having this information allows Church leaders and employees living in threatened areas begin the process of purchasing supplies and relocating people to shelters,” said Foster.
Since Katrina and Rita, two deadly hurricanes that wreaked havoc along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico in the United States, governments around the world have become more sensitive to emergency preparedness.
In the case of Mexico and Hurricane Dean, the Church has not yet been asked to provide any relief or assistance because the Mexican government immediately mobilized its resources and was ready when the storm twice crossed the country.