In Case of Disaster

by Janet Thomas


Getting Blown Away

Young South Carolinians help clean up after Hurricane Hugo.

The noise was so loud it woke Christina Foster up—a roaring like a midnight train rumbling through the town. She cowered in her sleeping bag, afraid that the window near her would shatter from the violent vibration.

Christina, 16, of the Monck’s Corner Ward, Charleston South Carolina Stake, was living through the nightmare of Hurricane Hugo. Her family was camping out in the stake center, along with other ward members warned by civil authorities to evacuate their homes.

After a few minutes, Christina got up and joined her parents and sisters as they tried to see what was happening outside. It was the darkest, blackest night she could remember.

“All we could hear were things moving around, and the snap, snap, snap of trees falling,” said Christina. “I was more scared than I should have been. But everyone at the church was calm, so I felt safe.”

Unlike Christina, Natalie Moon, 14, of the Summerville Ward, slept right through the hurricane. But the next morning, she was in for a shock. “When I stepped outside the next morning,” said Natalie, “I couldn’t even walk down my street because there were so many trees down.” She reported later that “we spent a month and half cleaning up our yard.”

Hurricane Hugo swept through Charleston just a little before midnight on September 21, 1989. For several days hurricane alerts had been broadcast, but the young people in Charleston were used to hearing about hurricanes. In the past, alerts always meant a little more rain and wind than usual, but nothing serious.

This time it was serious. Alerts changed to warnings. Hugo was definitely headed their way. The young people spent one hectic day helping their parents fill all available containers with water and securing their homes as best they could. It was time to test their preparedness and see how well they could handle a disaster.

Matt, 16, and Camille Baughman, 18, of the Summerville Ward were told by their parents to get together a change of clothes, their scriptures and journal, and a flashlight, in case they had to leave home quickly. Camille said, “It was hard because Mom said we should get two things we wanted to save. At first I wanted to take all my clothes, but then I decided on my violin.”

After the hurricane Matt pitched in to help his father, who as stake president was coordinating relief efforts. Camille saw a side of her brother she had never seen before. “I was impressed,” she said. “He got up early, worked all day, and went to bed exhausted. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s not the brother I knew.’”

For more than two weeks water and power were cut off to most homes. After a few days the novelty of taking sponge baths and cooking all the food on camp stoves got old. During daylight hours, the dominant sound was the drone of chainsaws as people worked to cut and move fallen trees from roads and around houses.

The young people of South Carolina were more than ready to return to school when it resumed nearly three weeks after the hurricane. Tracy Jones, 18, of the Summerville Ward, said, “Once we finished cleaning up, there was nothing to do. We played a lot of board games. I think I got along best with my brothers and sisters because we had to, we were together so much.”

Although the hurricane was frightening when they were in the middle of it, most of the youth of Charleston learned something unique about themselves. They discovered that material possessions didn’t mean as much as they thought. Christina said, “When my dad went out to see if our house was still there, I thought, ‘It doesn’t matter because I know my whole family is all right.’ We would be glad if the house was okay, but if it wasn’t, we were still okay.”

Some Extra Hands

Cleaning up after a hurricane sounded like it might be fun. That’s what the Boy Scouts of Troop 304 in the Athens Georgia First and Second wards thought when they heard about the hurricane hitting the coast of their neighboring state, South Carolina.

Jacob Keith decided to take on the assistance effort as an Eagle project. At first Jacob was a little hesitant. He said, “I’m not much for calling people I don’t know, but I got used to it after a while. I was surprised how helpful people were. When I called the Scouts, I didn’t think they would want to spend their whole weekend in South Carolina working. But they said yes.”

The group ended up unloading semitrailers into a warehouse. When the boxes were light, they made a game out of it. When the goods were heavy, like the load of doors they had to unload, they just buckled down and got the job done.

The most impressive thing was that the project was planned and carried out completely by the Scouts themselves. Scoutmaster Scott Johnson said, “The relief team thought I was one of the boys. They spoke on the phone to Jacob, so they went to him to make decisions and organize the effort.”

The troop spent two weekends helping distribute relief goods.

[photos] Photography by Janet Thomas

[photos] The disasters struck less than a month apart. Top:, in California, a major earthquake toppled freeways, ignited fires, and left many fearful and homeless. Bottom, in South Carolina, Hurricane Hugo tore through Charleston, leaving fallen trees and battered houses. The New Era spoke to young Latter-day Saints in both areas who said they learned important lessons in a dramatic fashion.

[photos] Trees and homes were no match for the gale force winds of the hurricane that slammed into Charleston, South Carolina. Young people helped clear debris for weeks afterward. From left, Christina Foster; brother and sister, Matt and Camille Baughman; Tracy Jones handles the chain saw; Lacy Moon stacks wood; Natalie Moon.

[photos] Scouts in Athens, Georgia, were well out of the path of the hurricane’s destruction but close enough to want to help. They did not want to impose on residents, so they packed their own food, water, and camped on the floor of a church house during two weekends they helped at a relief supply center.

Shaken Up

The earth heaved in California, upturning lives with the buildings.

Jonathan Day, 16, of the Los Gatos (California) First Ward, was studying in the Los Gatos city library. It was almost time for his father to pick him up. Suddenly, the bookcases started to sway. Books fell from the shelves, barely missing Jonathan’s head. Earthquake!

Jonathan knew what to do, just what every California school child is drilled to do in case of an earthquake—“duck and cover.”

The killer earthquake struck northern California on Oct. 17, 1989. Although people felt the shaking for miles, being at the epicenter was a wild, emotional experience for the youth of the Santa Cruz California and Saratoga California stakes.

Maren Nelson, 16, of the Alma Branch, was helping her mother make a salad for dinner. When the house started to shake, she automatically dove under the table, pulling her mother with her. Huddled together, they could see cupboard doors flying open, dumping dishes out. The refrigerator fell over, spilling food everywhere. The built-in oven was wrenched from the wall, kitchen cabinets tore loose and fell into a messy heap on the floor. A massive china cabinet tipped over against the table, crushing the chair between. “After the shaking stopped,” Maren said, “I remember the terror in my father’s voice as he yelled into the house to find out if we were safe.”

James Metcalf, of the Alma Branch, was working at a health spa. The earthquake hit when he was lifting a heavy barbell. With one heave he replaced the weight on its rack and ducked under the door frame.

The water in the pool splashed into a high wave, dumping stunned swimmers onto the deck. Lockers fell, and hot tubs became bubbling geysers. James evacuated the building. After making sure everyone was okay, he locked the doors and headed home, a cautious drive that took more than three hours. Dozens of aftershocks bounced the car.

Finally, he made it to his house. The porches were torn away, and in panic he thought his family might still be inside. “Then I remembered our contingency plan,” James said. “They were in the orchard.” He found his family, with their camping equipment and a sleeping bag all ready for him.

For most of the young people, the earthquake meant days of cleaning up, and in some cases, having their homes condemned as unsafe. It also meant learning some lessons the hard way.

When Jonathan arrived home, his family found a fissure (a large crack in the ground) running under their house. The bookcases, fastened to the walls, had not tipped over, and his mom’s plate collection, attached with earthquake-proof hangers, was still on the wall. However, their 72-hour kit was another problem.

“Our kit was trapped in the garage,” said Jonathan, “so we couldn’t get to it for 72 hours.”

The Nelson home was one that was heavily damaged. Maren was grateful her family was uninjured. “Even though our home was destroyed, I have learned and continue to learn from the experience. The most important thing is that we are all alive and together.”

Cameron Dryg, 15, of the Los Gatos First Ward, said, “In the future, we’ll have more water stored, more batteries, and a battery-operated radio.”

The night of the earthquake, when James settled into his sleeping bag with his family in the orchard next to their damaged house, his little brother asked, “Dad, does this mean we’re homeless?”

Brother Metcalf answered, “No, son, we’re together as a family, and we have our tents. Our family is a forever family. We’ll build another house.”

At that moment James remembered a seminary scripture. “When the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you …” (Wasn’t there anything in there about earthquakes?) “… it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall” (see Hel. 5:12).

[Prepare for Disaster]

Had they known then what they know now, the young people of South Carolina and California would have made a few adjustments to prepare for survival.

  1. 1.

    Store water. Many times after a disaster the safety of the water supply is in doubt. Having water on hand can be critically important.

  2. 2.

    Don’t forget food in the freezer. Because the electricity was out and freezers defrosted, many families had more food (for the short term) than they could use. Neighbors got together to barbecue steaks that thawed. Many teenagers said they never ate better than during the disaster.

  3. 3.

    Store batteries for flashlights and radios. It seemed like everyone in the country knew more about what was happening with the disasters than the people involved in them did. A television or radio that ran on batteries was often the only source of news. Flashlights allowed those who had them to read or play games after the sun went down.

  4. 4.

    Have a family plan in case of emergency. Discuss where to meet and what to do in case you are not at home when disaster strikes.

  5. 5.

    Photos and journals can’t be replaced. Make sure they are in a place where they can be grabbed quickly. Even better, make duplicate prints of your favorite family photos and send them to relatives out of state.

  6. 6.

    Additional supplies. Other items good to have in an emergency could include regularly required medicine (such as insulin); a change of clothes (work clothes would be best); a camp stove and fuel; first aid kit; games; bedding or a sleeping bag.

  7. 7.

    Cash and gas may come in handy. With power out, banks were closed, automatic tellers didn’t work, and service stations could not pump fuel. Usually it only takes a couple of days for generators to be brought in to get these services functioning again, but in the meantime, those with money and gasoline have purchasing power and mobility.

[photos] Photography by John Hart

[photos] Far left, the Winter’s home in Watsonville was cracked in two. Upper left, Janet Metcalf surveys the rubble in her kitchen. The Metcalf family camped in an orchard next to their home. They plan to rebuild since their home had to be torn down.

[photos] Bricks fell from the facades of buildings and littered the streets in Watsonville, California. The quake opened a fissure in the parking lot of the Alma Branch in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

[photos] Upper left, although the Nelson family’s home was badley damaged, they were able to restore its foundation, repair it, and move in a year later. Lower left, full-time missionaries did a great service helping with cleanup. Right, many were killed when the decks of a freeway collapsed during rush hour traffic in Oakland, California.