Members on the East Coast Begin Cleaning Up Wreckage from Storm
Contributed By By Whitney Evans and Jason Swensen, Church News staff writers
An 8-year-old boy from an LDS family from Montrose, Pennsylvania, is counted among at least 82 people whose deaths have been linked to Hurricane Sandy.
The boy, Matthew Stahl, was killed when an upright branch snapped off a large tree on his family’s property. Someone had come to the door to deliver food for the family’s cattle before the storm had hit the area. Matthew Stahl asked his father if he could go outside to play. The father said no, but the boy ran out anyway, according to President Ken Cooper, first counselor in the Scranton Pennsylvania Stake, who has home taught the family for 16 months. It was calm outside and had not yet started raining, but within less than a minute, a limb of 8 to 9 inches in diameter snapped and fell on the boy.
“The family is doing the best as can be expected,” President Stahl said.
“Matthew was a passionate and extremely caring and sensitive boy. He was very well loved by his family. He had an infectious smile and laugh,” his obituary said. “He loved being outdoors building a tree fort and playing with his siblings and his dog Montana. He had a great imagination and enjoyed pirates and Iron Man.”
President Darrell R. Hubbard, Scranton Pennsylvania Stake president, said the family has a lot of support. Although this is a tragedy, the gospel adds context.
“We’ve lost this little boy. It’s painful,” he said. “But with the fulness of the gospel and Heavenly Father’s plan, no one is lost.”
There were no other reports Tuesday of injury to members. All missionaries are safe and accounted for, said Church emergency response director Lynn Samsel.
No temples located in the storm’s path were damaged, although there were early reports of flooding in a few Church meetinghouses.
“We know some members’ homes have been flooded, but don’t know the number,” added Brother Samsel.
Local Church authorities in storm-impacted regions are working closely with welfare officials at Church headquarters to determine the impact of the storm on members and Church-owned property.
“Priesthood leaders are making an assessment as quickly as they can,” said Brother Samsel. “The water hasn’t even receded in some areas, so they have not been able to get in and make an assessment.”
The Church began preparing for the hurricane long before Sandy reached the U.S. East Coast. Church representatives have been in contact with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the American Red Cross, and other relief agencies to coordinate response efforts. Forty-two member volunteers were supporting Red Cross shelter operations in New Jersey and neighboring areas.
A Church statement noted: “The Church stands ready to assist affected communities. Emergency response resources have been pre-positioned in bishops’ storehouses in the area. These resources include items such as food, water, blankets, hygiene supplies, tarps, cleaning supplies, chain saws, and shovels.”
Stake presidents and bishops along the East Coast are joining their wards, including home and visiting teachers, to assess damages in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
President Jeff V. Nelson of the Brooklyn New York Stake was out on his bike surveying damage in the area Tuesday. He rode past fallen trees, dead traffic lights, and sand on the roads at least a quarter mile from the beach. Cars with broken windows littered his path along Ocean Park Way, and he also saw a BMW that had been carried on top of a Mercedes.
“But that’s not where the devastation is. Just imagine having your home filled with water,” President Nelson said. “The notion of having your first floor filled with water is just something you don’t think about.”
Reports from bishops in his stake indicated that the majority of members in the area were not displaced and escaped major damage from the storm. Those with flooded homes had found places to live for the time being.
His stake encompasses Coney Island, Bensonhurst, and Staten Island, among other areas. During a five-minute ride from Coney Island to Bensonhurst, he saw a transition from greater damage and power outages to a thriving area with lights on.
He said residents on Coney Island were in a position to get food or supplies, if they did not mind traveling out of their neighborhood to do so.
Staten Island is a different story. Half the island does not have power, which means many stores are closed and do not have a way of refrigerating the food. Of the roughly 600 Church members on the island, most are without power at this point.
He said a major problem is getting ahold of members in the area. Although many wards in his area have around 500 to 700 people on their rolls, attendance in sacrament meeting falls around 100 people. This means there are many people who are hard to track down, even outside of an emergency situation.
However, he is hopeful about the recovery effort.
“We’ve got a force of people that I think can do a great deal of good,” he said.
As of 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, October 30, there was not much flooding in the East Brunswick New Jersey Stake. Stake president Gregory J. Stokes said the cleanup effort is still in its beginning stages. They have not had the opportunity to assess damages because many roads are not open. Power was out throughout the stake, so many people were making do with generators. He said in addition to the power outage, there is no gasoline. The stations that had gas still had no power, and the stations with power had no gas. However, he said many of the members filled up on gas before the storm. He said early reports indicated not as much flooding as with past storms but likely more house damage from all the downed trees. They anticipate going at least a week without power.
Morristown, New Jersey
Families with young children flocked to what President Bruce D. Jones and his wife are affectionately calling “Jones central.”
The Jones family has a generator and has opened their house to the new families and young couples with children who did not have such a luxury. At any given time there were anywhere from 2 to 20 people at his home, showering, charging appliances, or getting some rest. Families also flocked to his home to put their food in one of the Jones family’s three freezers, each having their food labeled so they could tell what food belonged to what family.
“We try to be an open house during these crisis times,” President Jones said.
Because the area within his stake is forested, when trees fell in the storm, they took down cables and wires with them, effectively cutting power in the area. According to President Jones’s estimation, 75 percent of his stake was without power as of early afternoon Tuesday. He also said they expect to be without power for about a week.
During a Monday night conference call with bishops in his stake, he confirmed there were no major emergencies in the stake boundaries. Although a couple of cars were demolished in the stake, and a few families had to evacuate their homes in the event the river flooded, the damage was not as severe as he had initially expected.
“We have dodged a bullet. We’re inland far enough that it really didn’t affect us,” President Jones said.
President Kevin B. Rollins of the Boston Massachusetts Stake said on Tuesday that he had heard from the bishops in the area and everyone was fine. Most of the power within his stake was restored and, as of Tuesday afternoon, there were blue skies and clear weather.
Things were going well in the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Stake, according to stake president Jordan P. Peterson. His stake had a system in place so each member was being checked on. As of early Tuesday afternoon, electricity outage was still a major issue. Some members who owned generators and retained their power coverage shared their generators with those more affected by the storm. Some members were staying with other families in the stake.
Because there is no school or work as a result of the storm, the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Stake had work crews ready to go. The damage was minimal in their area, so President Peterson planned to reach out to a neighboring stake to help with recovery efforts. After a neighbor’s tree fell on the stake president’s car Monday night, his wife posted a picture on Facebook. By Tuesday morning, 15 young men and priesthood holders were at his home, ready to clean up the mess caused by the tree.
Elder Robert B. Smith, Area Seventy over southern New Jersey, Delaware, and the southeast portion of Pennsylvania said although many members experienced power outages, they did not suffer as much damage as initially projected.
“Overall the storm was nowhere near what we expected. It was quite mild, at least in our area.”
He said some members were evacuated from their homes but, by and large, Church members in his area are in a position to help others.
“We sense that we’ll have to go in and do some help with some of their neighbors and so forth that have challenges,” he said.