Reeling from pair of natural disasters, members rally in Central America
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Thousands of members in Central America were left reeling from a two-fisted combo of natural disasters that killed hundreds, destroyed homes by the thousands and prompted a ongoing Church humanitarian response.
Guatemala's Pacaya volcano erupted May 27, spewing lava and rocks and blanketing sections of Guatemala City — located 19 miles to the north — in ash and debris. The eruption forced the evacuation of hundreds of families living near Pacaya, including several member families. The international airport in the Guatemalan capital was also closed because of the ashy conditions.
Two days after the volcanic eruption, Tropical Storm Agatha made landfall along the Guatemala-Mexico border. As it moved south, Agatha dumped more than a foot of rain and triggering deadly landslides in parts Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The flooding has claimed almost 200 lives, including some 150 in Guatemala. Dozens of others were injured or were still missing at press time. Meanwhile, an estimated 129,000 people in the region had to be evacuated to safer locations.
All missionaries and members are safe and accounted for. Still, the double-disaster has exacted a sobering cost to Central American Latter-day Saints. An estimated 1,200 Guatemalan members have been "significantly impacted" by the storm and volcanic eruption, according to Church welfare services. Four-hundred members in El Salvador and Honduras, respectively, have also been affected. About 70 member homes were destroyed or washed away during the flooding.
Many members were devastated by the disaster. Sister Sara Perez, a widow and mother of six children, lost all of her possessions when a mudslide washed away her home near Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.
"I was with my children when the mudslide hit our home," she said in a filmed interview with public affair workers from the Central America Area. "The corner of our home just collapsed. Fortunately, the Church members have been here to help."
No Church meetinghouses were harmed by the disasters and many building are being utilized to shelter LDS families who have been displaced.
Authorities and priesthood leaders in the Central America Area went into action at the first sign of trouble. Many members families were evacuated before Agatha hit and coordination between Area Seventies, stakes presidents and Church facilities managers has been ongoing from the beginning.
The Church provided emergency food, water, clothing and tools to victims and local priesthood leaders. The Central America Area was also working with civil authorities in the three affected Central American nations to purchase and distribute medicine, building supplies and other relief provision.
As Pacaya settles and the storms clear, the Church plans to continue providing basic necessities to those in emergency need even as it evaluates the long-term impact to be felt by affected member families. Priesthood leaders are developing a plan to construct and repair home, providing Church-purchased building materials and member labor. Some families will also be provided seeds to replace crops washed away by the deluge.