“Storms, Floods Hit Western United States,” Ensign, Mar. 1997, 75
Unusually severe winter storms dumped snow and rain in December and January on parts of California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. Subsequent snowmelt contributed to widespread flooding and mud slides. Throughout the region hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated, isolated, or left without power. Numerous homes, buildings, highways, and railways were damaged or destroyed, and more than 20 deaths had been blamed on the weather by mid-January. Damage estimates are in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and a state of emergency was declared in more than 80 counties.
Though several Church members lost their homes, all members and missionaries were reported safe. Members throughout the region were organized under priesthood direction to assist with prevention and cleanup efforts, and local Church welfare committees coordinated efforts to care for the elderly and families with special needs.
“We used the geographic codes in our meetinghouse computer to pinpoint all members in the disaster zone,” said Bishop Gregory E. Bertola of the Modesto Sixth Ward, Modesto California Stake, where flooding occurred. “We started a phone tree to determine who needed extra help. Members in higher zones provided shelter, food, and clothing to the eight ward families who were evacuated. Work groups have already been organized to clean up homes as soon as the waters have receded.”
“Our meetinghouse was used as a shelter,” reported Bishop Dan Charles Speigle of the Shelton First Ward, Elma Washington Stake, where ice damage, flooding, and power outages occurred. “Members dug out a family whose house was snowed in near a lake. In another case a leader checked on the house of a family who was away on vacation. When he discovered that fallen tree limbs had damaged the roof, he climbed up and did what he could. He then informed the family and helped arrange for repairs.”
Several Church meetinghouses suffered roof leaks or other minor damage. The bishops’ storehouse in Spokane, Washington, was temporarily closed because the roof was not draining properly. In Seattle, heavy snow followed by rain collapsed about a third of the roof of the Church’s Deseret Industries building, damaging sales and production areas.
“We’re in the process of salvaging the building and restoring production,” said President Paul William Tucker of the Seattle Washington North Stake, who serves as local priesthood advisor for Deseret Industries. “Dangerous areas have been shored up, and most of the 110 employees will be able to return to work soon.”