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Latter-day Saint volunteers from more than 30 congregations in North Carolina came together over the weekend to help clean up neighborhoods devastated by Hurricane Florence, which hit the southeastern United States in mid-September. Many homes in the region are still inundated by floodwaters from record-breaking swollen rivers.
“We’re trying to wait for the water to go down enough,” said Barbara Brooks, a resident of New Bern, North Carolina, who is staying with friends. “It’s been up to four feet. We can’t access our house and begin removing things from it to stop the mold because of the water.”
Her husband, Roger, said this hurricane caused more damage to their property than Hurricane Irene did when it hit the East Coast in 2011. “This time it was inside, and it was more invasive.”
Volunteers worked on Saturday and Sunday, September 22 and 23, 2018. On Sunday, Church members attended worship services dressed in their work clothes and then went to lend a helping hand to hundreds of families in need. Meetinghouses have been converted into command centers to serve hurricane survivors from the Outer Banks to Ocean Isle.
“Brings tears to my eyes,” said Janet Ecklund, who was displaced from her flooded home in New Bern. “Driving through the neighborhood … you see all these people that have their belongings that they’ve built up over a lifetime out on the road because they’re no good.” A team of volunteers spent hours helping her clean out debris and gut her storm-damaged home.
“We’ve had our time in the past, but this time it was our turn to serve and help other wards that were more severely hit,” said Kelly Taylor, Relief Society president of the Church’s Kinston Stake, which covers a large geographic area from Greenville to Harkers Island.
“We just received a shipment from Church headquarters [of] relief supplies,” said BL Marcom, bishop of a congregation in Harkers Island.
Bishop Marcom said the shipment includes hygiene and food kits. “We have cleaning supplies, kits that we can give out to individuals within the community.” Each cleaning kit includes a cleaning rag, soap, bleach, dust masks, rubber gloves, brushes, sponges, trash bags, a bucket and other items to assist those mucking out flooded structures.
He reports that members’ homes are among the tens of thousands of homes that have been damaged from the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.
“I just love these people who came, and [I am] so grateful for the Church and what it does for us,” said Lena Respess from the community of Sea Level. “We knew that there was damage with the trees, but I had no idea that there was this damage with the roof and the water.” Volunteers have taken out the ceiling and upstairs carpeting and repaired her damaged roof.
“The Lord would go out and help,” explained Latter-day Saint volunteer Courtney Matthews. “We’re going and serving His people, and we’re helping them out and doing what we can.”
“Well, to come out and help is doing God’s work,” added James Guthrie of Harkers Island, who volunteered alongside his Latter-day Saint neighbors.
“We are a very, very small community. And just seeing everybody from all denominations, all churches, all backgrounds coming together [makes me] grateful for our community,” expressed Rae Guthrie, a Latter-day Saint from Harkers Island.
She continued, “We’re still without power and we’re not sure when it’s coming back on. But just knowing that we have the prayers and help of community and the outside is a little overwhelming.”
Her 13-year-old son, Cale, has been helping his neighbors clean up from the hurricane. “I’ve been out putting a lot of tarps on roofs. We’ve been cutting down trees, moving limbs. We cleaned a lot of yards.”
Bishop Marcom expressed his appreciation to all the volunteers: “We can prepare somewhat … when [hurricanes] come. But now is when we actually have the opportunity to serve and to minister.”