A Year of Calamity: For Many Latter-day Saints, 2018 Was Defined by Natural Disasters

Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News associate editor

  • 20 December 2018

Latter-day Saint missionaries clean up debris in Hong Kong after Super Typhoon Mangkhut hit Asia on September 17, 2018.

Article Highlights

  • Eight of the biggest natural disasters of 2018 significantly impacted Latter-day Saints around the world.

For thousands of Latter-day Saints across the globe, 2018 will be forever remembered as the year nature turned mean and indiscriminately destructive.

From Northern California to the coastal regions of the U.S. Southeast and across vast sections of Asia—and several points in between—natural disasters largely defined the past 12 months.

Hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis hit members and their neighbors historically hard. Homes and businesses were lost. Families were displaced. Lives were changed, sometimes in an instant.

But Latter-day Saints did not endure tragedy alone. Ministering was found in quiet moments of one-on-one service and through massive, well-publicized Helping Hands projects.

Church-sponsored humanitarian relief efforts did not remove the pain felt by those affected by the many disasters—but they did offer measures of peace and sustaining moments of hope and community.

Here's a look back at a year that, for legions of Latter-day Saints, was marked by natural disasters:

In Taiwan, a February 6 earthquake killed 17 and injured hundreds more. No members or missionaries were injured.

The magnitude 6.4 quake rattled the popular tourist city of Hualien just before midnight—toppling buildings, buckling streets, and leaving thousands without water and power.

Missionaries were well prepared for the disaster, and several who were evacuated from their apartments for a short time relied upon provisions stored in their 72-hour kits.

In Hawaii, several member families from the Pohoa community in early May were forced from their homes after being threatened by a lava flow from the erupting Kilauea Volcano. Dozens of homes were destroyed, including the residence of at least one Latter-day Saint family.

The Kea’au Ward meetinghouse doubled as a shelter, and local Latter-day Saints and their neighbors stepped up to help wherever needed, demonstrating “the Aloha spirit.”

Many residents living in impacted areas had to flee from their homes and had no time to gather even their most basic provisions. Hilo Hawaii Stake members donated clothing, shoes, food, and other essentials for members and other folks sheltered at Red Cross facilities.

In Guatemala, Latter-day Saints were counted among the injured and missing following the June 3 eruption of the Fuego Volcano. Almost 170 people were killed.

Two members were believed to have perished, while several more were hospitalized after being severely burned.

Located less than 30 minutes from the capital city, Guatemala City, the volcano erupted multiple times, forcing the evacuation of thousands, destroying key roads and bridges, and even temporarily shutting down the international airport.

The Church responded immediately—converting a local stake center into an emergency shelter and distributing food and other provisions to displaced people.

In Japan, dramatic weather that included heavy rains and mudslides forced members from their homes and prompted Church-sponsored relief projects across several Asian countries.

There were no reports of injuries to missionaries or members.

Japan was hit especially hard, enduring its worst flooding and landslides in decades following torrential rainfall. More than 200 people were lost in what was the country’s deadliest disaster since the earthquake and tsunami of 2011.

Teams of missionaries and members in yellow Helping Hands vests helped clean up flood-damaged homes in saturated communities such as Okayama City.

In North Carolina, Hurricane Florence reached landfall on September 13 and began its slow, wet crawl across much of the eastern half of the state.

By the time the massive storm finally dissipated, more than 30 people had been killed and thousands were left without homes or shelters.

No members were killed, but Florence exacted a heavy cost, causing extensive flood damage to Latter-day Saint homes in communities such as New Bern, Lumberton, Hampstead, Harkers Island, and Wilmington.

As soon as it was deemed safe, Helping Hands crews from several Southeast states were dispatched to the Tar Heel State to help folks in need.

Meanwhile, a stake in Virginia shipped work clothes, shoes, and other provisions to Raleigh to outfit missionaries who were eager to join the cleanup efforts.

Several Church leaders—including President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency and Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—would later visit flood-impacted regions, sharing encouragement and love.

After spending time in North Carolina, the visiting Brethren and their wives met with hurricane-weary members along Florida’s Panhandle cleaning up following Hurricane Michael.

A North Carolina resident tells President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency, about his experience of living through Hurricane Florence.

In the Philippines and Hong Kong, Super Typhoon Mangkhut, a Category 5 storm, walloped residents with destructive winds and torrential rains.

Dozens of people were killed in landslides, and more than three dozen Latter-day Saint chapels in affected areas of the Philippines sheltered thousands as the typhoon raged.

The Church provided food, medicine, blankets, and other relief supplies in the aftermath of the disaster. And members and missionaries throughout impacted regions of Asia worked together to help clean their respective communities.

In Florida and Georgia, a Category 4 storm dubbed Hurricane Michael made landfall on October 10 along the Florida Panhandle.

No members or missionaries were injured, but the catastrophe caused severe wind damage to dozens of Latter-day Saint homes and multiple meetinghouses.

Hit especially hard by Michael were communities in the Dothan Alabama and Panama City Florida Stakes.

“This one will compare to any of the worst storms we’ve had in Florida, post-Hurricane Andrew,” said Elder Douglas B. Carter, an Area Seventy and longtime resident of the Sunshine State.

Thousands of Helping Hands volunteers—including many who responded to Hurricane Florence in North Carolina—spent their weekends serving on cleanup crews.

Command centers operated out of five area stake centers even as Church welfare trucks delivered needed building and relief supplies.

In California, the historic Camp Fire wildfire incinerated the Northern California city of Paradise and destroyed the homes of hundreds of Latter-day Saint families.

The blaze began November 8 and destroyed nearly 14,000 homes and hundreds of businesses, scorching an area roughly the size of Chicago. A meetinghouse in Paradise was also lost.

Finding housing continues to be a daunting challenge for displaced members from Paradise’s two wards. In the days and weeks following the fire, many found shelter in the homes of fellow members from the Chico California Stake.

Meanwhile, the Church provided counseling services to help displaced families cope with the horror of losing their homes and their community.

Paradise 1st Ward Bishop Robert Harrison said it’s difficult to know what the future holds for Paradise members. Some are planning to rebuild. Others will likely move someplace else.

Strength, he added, has been found in the concerned actions of others.

“We have been blessed with many donations and prayers.”

Members clad in yellow Helping Hands vests help repair the roof of a damaged home on Harkers Island, North Carolina, following Hurricane Florence. Local Relief Society and priesthood leaders joined forces to minister to members in need. Photo by Mariah Gillikin.