Hurricane in the East Mission

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Posted by President Stone on October 02, 1998 at 14:46:36:

Hurricane Georges in the
Santo Domingo East Mission

Contributed by E. Marshall McCoy
President, Santo Domingo East Mission

Hurricane Georges hit the island of Hispaniola passing through all of the towns in the East Mission. The first hit was the town of Higüey. The damage was considerable, but because our membership is few in the town and we do not have a regular chapel not a lot was required in the way of help.
Next in line was a much larger town named La Romana. The church has three chapels and many members. The damage is so pervasive that driving is very difficult in the town. In many areas if not in all areas all of the poles bearing electric line are now on the ground. Electric cables are lying over houses, fences and across streets. There is no power in the lines because the electricity comes from the capital and the pole along the highway are also down. It is difficult to estimate when power will be restored. A guess would be several months.
The most striking evidence of damage is the large basketball coliseum. It stands like a skeleton. The superstructure remains but it doesn't have a piece of the roofing or siding left on it. You look right through it seeing the mountains beyond. The seating seems out of place in the open air.
Saddest of all is the tremendous number of houses that are now only piles of painted boards. If the wooden houses are not totally destroyed they are all without roofs. Our missionaries have worked tirelessly helping members and others gather the corrugated metal pieces that blew away and nail them back on the simple frames.
Georges then moved on to San Pedro de Macorís, the home of Sammy Sosa. The stadium where Sammy played before going to the States was another victim of the powerful winds. The banks of lights which surrounded the stadium were all bent to the ground in total ruin. Again the real tragedy rests with the many families left homeless or with their small houses without roofs. We drove through areas where it looked like the homes had been knocked down with a wrecking ball. Boca Chica, the last town before the capital, not only suffered the same type of destruction, but the beautiful jungle that surrounds it is now a dead forest of frayed sticks. All of the greenery transformed into a sea of brown as far as the eye can see.
The capital also lost thousands of trees and if the tree wasn't uprooted it was stripped completely of all its leaves. The uprooted trees created havoc with the power lines and made almost all streets impassable.
As the mission president, I felt I had to find my missionaries, but I found all streets surrounding our house completely blocked. I was literally a prisoner in my own home.
A day after the storm army crews cut a path through the trees clearing the main avenues for one lane travel. My wife and I headed out to the zones in the capital. We were astonished at the level of destruction. This is a town of billboards and elaborate illuminated signs. These signs extend out over the streets from the stores. There are no signs or billboards let in the city--many new Shell gas stations had the canopies that cover the gas pumps blown completely to another part of the property.
One of the purposes of our trip was to see how our housekeeper had survived the storm. When we got to her house it was totally gone. None of the metal from the roof was anywhere to be found and the rest was a pile of rubble. Vicenta has worked in the mission home for four presidents. When we arrived she fell into the arms of Sister McCoy crying, "Mi casa, mi casa."
We are going to try an build her something to replace her house and anyone wanting to help by donating monies can send them to me. We will be establishing an account for that purpose. Vicenta will live temporarily in the mission home.
The northern part of the city suffered not only from the wind but from the torrential rains. There are areas which are now large lakes where houses used to stand. For months my wife and I have crossed a bridge to hold our zone conferences and for monthly interviews. We've always looked down at the hundreds of little tin-roofed houses beside the river and wondered what would happen should the river flood. We saw what would happen. The entire expanse of houses was covered by several feet of water. We believe these houses were evacuated before the hurricane hit. Today, a week later, we crossed the bridge again and where the houses were there is nothing or a cement pad here and there.
We are traveling daily trying to keep our missionaries supplied with safe water. Food for the missionaries, though limited in some areas, seems not to be a problem. We warned our missionaries in time for them to get a couple of weeks of food and water. We have also put them on a strict program of adding bleach to any water they use for any purpose.

Areas I haven't mentioned are Hato Mayor, El Seibo, Monte Plata, Sabana Grande de Boyá, Sabana de la Mar and Yamasá. The best off of these six small towns is Sabana de la Mar. It was far enough north that it wasn't hit as hard as the others. The other five towns suffered severe damage due to the large number of wooden homes with thatched or metal roofs.
In Hato Mayor, eight member families who lost their houses are living in the chapel. I visited the little branch six days after the hurricane hit and walked down the hall opening classroom doors. In each classroom lived a different family. Most had only a blanket between them and the cement floor. They cooked in the kitchen and bathed their children in plastic tubs on the volleyball court. I noticed a clothes line stretched between the volleyball poles. I saw that it was a thick aluminum cable. I followed it beyond the pole to which it was tethered to a downed power pole. They were using a high voltage cable as a clothes line.
While there, two elders and I put back some of the roof that had blown off and tied it down with rope. Almost all of our chapels have a piece of metal that sits over the ridge which lets out the heat and caps the ridge. That piece that runs the length of the building has blown off on nearly every chapel in the East mission. Also all of the ceiling tiles together with the insulation has been blown down.
The problem we face now is helping our people stay well in the aftermath. When we have standing water or contaminated rivers we must convince our people as we have our missionaries to use bleach in any water they touch. We have also exhorted our missionaries to use mosquito repellant liberally and use their mosquito netting when sleeping.

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