A massive hurricane is bearing down on you and your family. Winds exceed 150 miles per hour. Flooding and wind damage are certain. Survival may depend on how well you respond to two questions: What should I do before the hurricane arrives? What should I do after it passes?
For Latter-day Saint youth and their families who live along the Gulf Coast of the United States, dealing with both questions became a terrifying reality in August and September 2005. First, Hurricane Katrina slammed ashore, devastating the New Orleans area and the Mississippi coast. Just weeks later, Hurricane Rita ripped through southeastern Texas and western Louisiana. Both storms damaged homes and businesses for hundreds of miles and created the need for massive clean-up. Youth who had to deal with the devastation will remember it for a lifetime.
“No one ever believes it will happen to them, and neither did we,” says Kim Dohm, 17. Hurricane warnings come so often here they seem routine. “We evacuated, but we didn’t think much about what we took with us, because we expected to be back in a few days. We thought it was just another false alarm.” It wasn’t. The storm smashed through Kim’s hometown of Slidell, Louisiana. Winds tore roofs from buildings and snapped trees like toothpicks. Rapidly rising water flooded major portions of the city.
“The damage seemed so random,” Kim says. “In the same neighborhood some houses were torn apart, while others were mostly undamaged. The main thing I learned was to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. If you have to evacuate, leave early and plan to be gone for a while.” Her family had to stay away not just for days, but for weeks.
“No one can predict exactly where and when a hurricane will come ashore,” says Nolan Moore, 15, of Vidor, Texas. “But if officials say you should leave, then leave. And do it as soon as you can.” Nolan and his family caravanned with other Latter-day Saints and found shelter in an LDS meetinghouse a safe distance away.
Seventeen-year-old Brittany Crossley and her thirteen-year-old sister, Danielle, live in Vidor, Texas. Their father is an emergency room doctor at a hospital in Port Arthur, directly in the projected path of Hurricane Rita. Dr. Crossley prayed and felt impressed that if he would spend the day before the storm evacuating patients, he and his family would be all right. Since the Crossley’s home was in an area of potential danger, he obtained permission from his bishop for the family to stay in their ward building during the storm. “The ward is far enough north to be safe,” Brittany explains.
“When Dad said, ‘We’re going to the church and we’re going to be okay,’ I thought, ‘Trust the inspiration and follow him to higher ground,’” Danielle recalls. Soon they received calls that the mass evacuation had resulted in gridlock on the freeway. “It’s good that we listened to our father,” Brittany says. “Otherwise, we would have been stuck in traffic all through the storm.”
So they “hunkered down” at the church, in an inside room with no windows. “We had food and water. We played a board game to pass the time. At 11:00 p.m., the power went out, so we read scriptures by flashlight and had family prayer,” Danielle recalls. They listened to the wind rattling like a freight train. “At one point someone held a flashlight high so we could all see each other,” Brittany says. “I remember how grateful we were for the light. It made me think of the Savior, the Light of the World.”
Kim Dohm was comfortable at her grandparents’ house in Fort Worth, Texas, 500 miles from her home and parents. Her father and mother were helping with relief efforts in Slidell. But when she heard the news that evacuees wouldn’t be allowed back home for weeks or possibly months, it was more than she could bear. “One day at school, I just started to sob,” Kim says. “Everyone told me things would be okay, but I couldn’t stop crying.” Anxious and uncertain, she prayed. “I felt the most overwhelming peace in my heart,” she says. “I remembered how the Savior calmed the storm and reassured the disciples on the Sea of Galilee. My heart was raging, but His example calmed and reassured me.”
Fifteen-year-old Ashley Clarke of Slidell remembers that reading the Book of Mormon calmed her nerves and brought relief from the uncertainty of living in an evacuation area. So did writing in her journal. “It gave me something productive to do instead of getting annoyed,” she says.
It was almost a month before Emily Smith, 17, who had stayed with relatives, was reunited with her immediate family in Slidell. “Even though we were together, dealing with the destruction was depressing,” she recalls. “All of the downed trees, water-soaked furniture, and ruined clothes piling up in people’s yards—it could get to you. Some of the places where we used to hang out had vanished like they never existed.” Now, 9 months after the storm, things are slowly getting back to normal. “Each day it seems a little better,” Emily says. She and her friends are back in school, back in seminary, and finding new places to have fun.
“We saw that designer clothes, furniture, and even nice houses can be ruined. Material things don’t matter much,” says Samantha Adams, 17. Following the hurricane, she spent a lot of time working in the bishops’ storehouse. “When I saw people come in who had lost practically everything, it didn’t seem important to worry about how my hair looked or if I had makeup on. I was just glad to help them.”
Samantha, along with Ashley Clarke, and her brother Thomas, 17, worked day after day in the storehouse. “They knew the landmarks and locations, and they understood computers,” explains Mike Dohm, field operations coordinator for the command center that was set up there. “We gave them responsibility for mapping out locations so work crews could get where they needed to go. They saw a need, recognized they could do it, and showed up every day to get it done. There’s just no way we could have done as much as we did without them.”
In anticipation of the hurricanes, the Church had moved food, bottled water, generators, chain saws, and other equipment to safe sites near the coast. As soon as the storms passed, supplies and equipment were quickly moved to locations like the storehouse for use and distribution. Stakes and wards in surrounding areas organized thousands of LDS volunteers into work groups that came each weekend from September to November to put tarps on roofs, cut up trees lying across roads, and pull up water-soaked carpets.
Ben Bradley, 13, was on one of these crews. He and his father, sister, and brother drove seven hours each way from Albany, Georgia, to Gulfport, Mississippi, making the trip several times. “We wanted to help,” Ben says. “I learned that all it takes is a willingness to pitch in, and Mormons are good at that.” Often crews would complete a work order at a member’s house and then perform similar tasks in other houses or yards in the neighborhood. The Church was widely recognized for its ability to help its own members and its willingness to help others, too.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita left reminders of their fury that will endure for a decade or more. But they also left a memory in the minds of these teens who survived the storms. “Sometimes people ask if living through Katrina has made me worried about the future,” Ashley says. “I tell them just the opposite is true. Now I know I can handle emergencies. All I need to do is hold fast to gospel principles and rely on a little help from my family and friends.”
Natural disasters are a possibility no matter where we live. The best way to prepare is to have emergency plans in place, survival supplies prepared, and training completed where it is available. Here are some other lessons learned by those who survived the hurricanes:
Make sure you have fresh batteries and flashlights.
Refrigerators and freezers will provide food for a few days.
Store water, both for drinking and for bathing.
Have important papers in a place where you can easily grab them.
Get to know your neighbors, and have a contact list for emergencies.
Aaronic Priesthood and Young Women camping experience can prepare you for living in emergency conditions.
Remember, “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear” (D&C 38:30).
“The time has come to get our houses in order. … There is a portent of stormy weather ahead to which we had better give heed.”
—President Gordon B. Hinckley (“To the Boys and to the Men,” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 53).
To learn more about preparing for emergencies, go to www.lds.org and click on “Provident Living” and then on “Food Storage and Emergency Preparedness.” There you’ll find advice on topics such as how to prepare for the future, both spiritually and temporally; preparing for home emergencies and natural disasters; and a list of emergency preparation resources.