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Church releases statement on safety of missionaries near Hurricane Michael

Even as Latter-day Saints in the Carolinas are continuing their cleanup Wednesday following Hurricane Florence, Hurricane Michael is battering their fellow members in coastal regions of the Florida Panhandle.

While Florence was defined largely by floodwaters and overflowing rivers, Michael is already infamous for its brutal, historically powerful winds.

“This was an unprecedented wind event,” said Panama City Florida Stake President Jacob Fish, a longtime resident of the region.

There were no reports of injuries to members Wednesday evening, “although we know of at least one member who has lost his home.”

President Fish said he was still awaiting a comprehensive report from heavily affected areas in his stake — including Panama City, Lynn Haven, Callaway, Mexico Beach, Bristol and Apalachicola.

Hurricane Michael formed off the coast of Cuba carrying major Category 4 landfall in the Florida Panhandle. Surge in the Big Bend area, along with catastrophic winds at 155mph. Storm surge floods 20th St in Port St. Joe, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, after Hurricane Michael makes landfall in the Florida Panhandle. (Douglas R. Clifford/The Tampa Bay Times via AP)
Hurricane Michael formed off the coast of Cuba carrying major Category 4 landfall in the Florida Panhandle. Surge in the Big Bend area, along with catastrophic winds at 155mph. Storm surge floods 20th St in Port St. Joe, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, after Hurricane Michael makes landfall in the Florida Panhandle. (Douglas R. Clifford/The Tampa Bay Times via AP) Photo: Douglas R. Clifford, Tampa Bay Times

Meanwhile, the Church released a statement Wednesday regarding missionaries.

“Missionaries in the path of Hurricane Michael have taken necessary precautions to remain safe as the storm passes,” said Church spokesman Daniel Woodruff. “Missionaries serving in coastal areas have been moved to safe locations with adequate supplies. Our mission presidents are in close contact with their missionaries and have instructed them on safety protocols.

“We pray for all those in the storm’s path. The Church continues to monitor conditions on the ground and will make any necessary adjustments as the storm progresses.”

A Tuesday posting on the Florida Tallahassee Mission Connections Facebook page reported that all the missionaries serving in Tallahassee, Panama City and most of Dothan were heading west or northwest.

They were expected to be “hunkered down” Wednesday in Church buildings or with fellow missionaries serving in communities in Florida and Alabama.

“We have accounted for each and every one of them,” wrote Florida Tallahassee Mission President Clint Smith in a Facebook post. “They are in good spirits and safe.”

The historic hurricane made landfall Wednesday near Mexico Beach — pulverizing homes, snapping trees and sending debris flying, reported USA Today. Thousands of roofs were blown from their homes in affected communities.

A man walks in the street of his heavily damaged neighborhood in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. Supercharged by abnormally warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle with terrifying winds of 155 mph Wednesday, splintering homes and submerging neighborhoods. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
A man walks in the street of his heavily damaged neighborhood in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. Supercharged by abnormally warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle with terrifying winds of 155 mph Wednesday, splintering homes and submerging neighborhoods. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) Photo: Gerald Herbert, AP

Hurricane Michael is already being called the strongest storm to ever hit the Florida Panhandle.

President Fish is among the many Latter-day Saints who evacuated from their coastal homes in front of Michael’s arrival. “I reside in one of the areas anticipated to be adversely affected and, as far as I know, it was,” he told the Church News.

The Panama City resident said communication with his neighbors in his home city has been difficult. “I’ve only been able to get one call in or out of Panama City. Cell towers are down.”

The images emerging from Panama City and neighboring communities are sobering, he added. “There are downed trees and a lot of water. It will all present a number of challenges in the days ahead.”

President Fish said a “good number” of his stake members living near the coast evacuated. Hurricane Michael formed quickly in the Atlantic, so local priesthood and Relief Society leaders were forced to move quickly.

“We worked diligently to get the word out and encourage people, particularly those in mobile homes, to evacuate,” he said. “Fortunately, each ward or branch had a hurricane plan in place.”

Lists were compiled with the names of those evacuating, and those who opted to stay in their homes during the storm.

President Fish said Wednesday he has no information on how Church meetinghouses in his stakes have fared.

The coming days and weeks will offer members in storm-affected communities countless opportunities to serve — and to be served.

“Every fall we don the yellow shirts and go help others in, say, Louisiana or Jacksonville,” he said. “We love serving others, but never hoped to don the shirts in our own backyards. This will be our opportunity.”

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