Sudden Destruction!—How Have They Coped?
WHEN Hurricane Hugo swept over Guadeloupe on Saturday, September 16, 1989, the night seemed endless. “A NIGHT OF NIGHTMARE” it was called. Next, Montserrat was terrorized by the 140 mile-per-hour [230 km/hr] winds. More than 20 died on these Caribbean islands.
Continuing its assault, Hugo mauled the Leeward Islands of St. Kitts and Nevis. The next night it brutalized the U.S. Virgin Islands of St. Croix and St. Thomas. The destruction left behind on St. Croix was almost beyond belief. Moving on, about noon Monday the hurricane flattened the northeastern part of Puerto Rico, especially devastating the tiny offshore islands of Vieques and Culebra.
Renewing its strength over water, Hugo gathered itself for yet another nighttime assault. Near midnight Thursday, packing winds of 135 miles an hour [220 km/hr], the huge storm slammed into the South Carolina coast of the United States. It cut a swath of destruction more than a hundred miles [160 km] wide from south of Charleston to beyond Myrtle Beach. Its destructive punch was maintained inland for over 200 miles [320 km], clipping power poles and downing huge oak trees as far away as Charlotte, North Carolina.
Hundreds of thousands fled coastal areas and thus survived when winds and 17-foot [5 m] waves swept away many houses and destroyed hundreds of others. Literally tens of thousands of homes and other buildings were damaged.
The destruction had to be seen to be believed—boats stacked like toys up to six high, sand deposited to a depth of three feet [1 m] in streets, huge trees on top of houses, roofs with gaping holes as if clawed open by a giant hand. ‘My son raises roosters to sell,’ reported one woman. ‘He staked them all down so they wouldn’t get blown away, and mostly they didn’t. But they haven’t got a feather on them.’
Yet, because warnings were heeded, only about 26 people in the United States died during the storm, and a few more than that in the Caribbean. On the other hand, economic losses are gigantic, running into many thousands of millions of dollars. U.S. government legislation following the storm provided for an initial $1.1 thousand million in emergency aid for Hugo victims, the largest such disaster-relief bill ever approved. That record, however, was soon eclipsed.
A More Sudden Destruction
On October 17, a month after Hugo touched land, northern California was shaken by an earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale. Bridges crashed, buildings toppled, and thousands either ran screaming from their homes or were paralyzed with fear as the ground rolled and shook for 15 or more seconds. More than a hundred thousand homes were damaged, and from several hundred to a thousand were destroyed. A week after the quake, some ten thousand residents of Santa Cruz County were still unable to drive to their homes because of landslides that blocked roads.
Death and destruction would have been much greater had builders not adhered to codes mandating quake-resistant construction. The 1988 quake in Armenia, for example, was less powerful but killed 25,000. Yet, apparently fewer than 70 died in the California quake, many of them when the upper roadway of a mile-long section of highway Interstate 880 collapsed onto cars on the lower roadway.
Never in U.S. history has a natural disaster been so costly. The following week, government legislation provided for over three thousand million dollars in relief. However, much more will be needed to rebuild. The president of the Personal Insurance Federation of California said that a total damage estimate for the earthquake of ten thousand million dollars “would be reasonable.”
Reminder of Basic Needs
A man was in his yard in a residential section of Charleston a couple of days after Hugo struck. As a relief worker was riding by, the man asked: “Do you have a glass of water?” For a moment it didn’t dawn on the worker that people didn’t even have water to drink!
Over 1,900 years ago, the apostle Peter pointed to a basic need of those in such trying circumstances. “The end of all things has drawn close,” he said. “Above all things, have intense love for one another.” (1 Peter 4:7, 8) The end of the entire Jewish system of things was near when Peter wrote those words. The end came a few years later, in 70 C.E., when Roman armies devastated Jerusalem. However, Christians had been given a sign in advance, and they heeded it and fled to the mountains across the Jordan River near the town of Pella.—Luke 21:20-22.
Try to imagine the situation as perhaps thousands of Christians arrived in that mountainous area. They evidently didn’t have housing or other basic needs but had to set up makeshift shelters. There were shortages and hardships. (Matthew 24:16-20) What did they particularly need at that trying time? “Intense love for one another,” Peter said. Yes, helping one another to cope.
Was such a spirit of helpfulness and love manifested following the recent devastations caused by Hugo and the earthquake?
Coping With Hugo’s Destruction
On St. Croix, survivors of Hugo greeted one another with hugs of joy and relief, just happy to be alive. Soon massive relief efforts were underway, providing victims shelter and food. However, some sought to profit from the misfortune of victims. Profiteers charged exorbitant prices. For example, a bag of ice that ordinarily was 79 cents sold for $10. There was even looting. But generally such callous acts were overshadowed by many acts of human kindness and compassion. Particularly noteworthy were reports regarding the relief efforts of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Even before Hugo struck, Christian elders visited those living in less secure houses and urged them to move into more strongly built Kingdom Halls or into the safer houses of their Christian brothers. The Kingdom Hall in Summerville, South Carolina, had more than 50 persons staying in it overnight during the storm!
In Guadeloupe such preparations for the storm proved lifesaving. On that island alone, 117 houses of Witnesses were destroyed, while nearly 300 houses of other Witnesses were severely damaged. In addition, 8 Kingdom Halls were badly damaged, while 14 others were less severely damaged.
Although several Witnesses were injured, none were killed, either in Guadeloupe or anywhere else in the Caribbean. The grown son of one of the Witnesses, however, was killed when he was literally sucked up by the wind that suddenly blew the roof off the house.
Not until the third day after the storm were fellow Witnesses finally able to make telephone contact with their brothers in Guadeloupe. In the meantime, however, traveling overseers and branch office personnel on the island met to organize a survey of the needs of their brothers, that is, their fellow Witnesses.
Soon water, food, clothing, and other necessities were being generously donated by those less seriously affected. Water was available at the branch office, and it was heartwarming to see brothers bring in all available containers, fill them, and then distribute them to those in need. Witnesses in Martinique were among the first from other countries to respond to the needs of their brothers in Guadeloupe.
Since Guadeloupe is under French control, Jehovah’s Witnesses in France quickly airfreighted to the island heavy plastic sheeting, nylon rope, and plastic cans for water. Shortly, some 100 metric tons of building supplies were shipped to Guadeloupe and immediately distributed.
Right away, Witnesses in Puerto Rico also began organizing a relief program. By the weekend after the storm, hundreds from unaffected areas of the island were descending on devastated towns to help repair houses. Also, two boats loaded with food, materials, and about 40 Witnesses sailed over to the small island of Culebra. The radio station there was soon praising the rebuilding work being done. The following weekend 112 Witnesses, accompanied by six tons of building materials, sailed to the little island of Vieques for similar reconstruction work.
Not until Friday, five days after the storm, were brothers from Puerto Rico able to rent a cargo plane and take food and medicine to St. Croix. One of the brothers reports: “From the air the whole island looked like a garbage dump. Entire villages were smashed and twisted. All over the hills were pieces of wood, metal, and debris; nothing green, just brown stumps of trees and burned grass, seared by wind gusts of up to 200 miles per hour [320 km/hr].”
After ascertaining the extent of the damage, Witnesses shipped in some 75 tons of building supplies. During October, about a hundred volunteers from Puerto Rico helped the brothers on St. Croix rebuild. A Kingdom Hall served as a dormitory. Each day was begun with a discussion of a Bible text, just as is done at all branch offices of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Local Christian sisters washed, cleaned, and cooked for the brothers.
Sheila Williams had saved for years to build a new home, and she had just moved into it when Hugo destroyed it. When she heard that her Christian brothers were coming from Puerto Rico to help victims, she told her workmates. But they said: “They will not do anything for you. You are black, not Spanish like them.” What a surprise they received when Sheila soon had a completely new house!
A five-year-old in Michigan, U.S.A., having seen news reports of the devastation on St. Croix, wanted to help those who had lost their possessions. She asked her mother’s permission to give a dress to a little girl so that ‘she can look nice when she goes to the Kingdom Hall.’
“To my surprise,” the mother noted, “she selected one of her best dresses.” The dress was sent, and as you can see on page 18, a child on St. Croix is delighted to have it.
After Hugo swept through South Carolina Friday morning, September 22, a relief committee was immediately formed. Christian elders in each of the scores of congregations in the affected areas were contacted, and these, in turn, accounted for every member of their congregation. Happily, nobody had been injured or killed, although the homes of some Witnesses were destroyed and those of others were badly damaged. One Kingdom Hall was severely damaged, and others also suffered some damage.
Things looked especially bleak in and around Charleston, with thousands of trees down, hundreds of roofs leaking, houses destroyed or torn apart, no drinking water, no electricity, no refrigeration, and no gasoline available. The picture, however, changed quickly.
Many brothers from the Charleston area had gathered together Saturday morning, the day after the storm, awaiting help. Ron Edling, the city overseer, describes what happened when word finally filtered in that Witnesses from outlying areas were on the way. “When we went outside, we saw one of the most beautiful sights we had ever seen. There was a convoy, and in the front window of the lead truck and the following trucks was a sign that read ‘JW Hurricane Relief Crews.’
“There were pickup trucks, cars, pickup trucks pulling trailers, and along with them thousands of gallons of water. They brought chain saws, and 300 gallons [1,100 L] of gasoline to power them. It was a sight that I’ll never forget. At that moment I thought, ‘This is one of the finest moments I have ever experienced in God’s organization.’ Those brothers not only brought critically needed supplies but also brought hope. I’m sure that everybody realized then what a brotherhood we have. Though it might take a little while, we were going to dig ourselves out.”
The following weekend as many as 400 Witness relief workers were on hand. Altogether, work was done on the roofs or in the yards of about 800 families, including many who are not Witnesses. At one relief center, the brothers were feeding almost 3,000 persons daily. In all, the Witnesses received and distributed over 500,000 pounds [230,000 kg] of food and 171,000 pounds [78,000 kg] of clothing, not to mention much building material and many other items. By Sunday, October 8, just 16 days after Hugo hit, all Kingdom Halls were repaired to the extent that all congregations could resume their regular schedule of meetings.
Coping With the California Quake
The epicenter of the October 17 earthquake was some 70 miles [110 km] south of San Francisco, about 10 miles [16 km] northeast of Santa Cruz. In this heavily populated area, where brief earth tremors are not uncommon, millions were terrified by what seemed an endless shaking of 15 seconds or more.
“The building literally rocked back and forth,” said Ray Vaden, a Christian elder in San Jose. “I wondered if it was going to remain standing. As I looked out my window, I could see that the roads were jammed with rush-hour traffic. It was 5:04 p.m.
“Finally we were able to start contacting the brothers in our congregation. Those we couldn’t reach by phone we arranged to visit in their homes. This took several hours because of traffic congestion. By 8:30 p.m. we learned that none were injured, although there was breakage of items inside many houses. The next day we learned that the homes of some of our brothers in the area were so severely damaged that they had to move out. They were taken into the homes of fellow Witnesses.”
Near Los Gatos, a Christian sister was taking a bath on the second floor of her two-story house when the entire first floor collapsed. So she stepped out of the bathtub on the first-floor level, amazingly uninjured. Had she been on the first floor, she would surely have been killed.
Right away, friends wanted to know what they could do for victims. On Thursday, two days after the earthquake, a committee to care for these was set up. On Saturday, large vans and other vehicles delivered tents, sleeping bags, lanterns and stoves, clothing, flashlights, canned food, drinking water, and so forth, to those in need. That morning alone, $41,000 was donated to the relief fund!
What a contrast to the attitude that some people of the world manifested! A man crawled to a victim trapped in her car beneath the collapsed section of Interstate 880. He promised not to hurt her but then took her rings, jewelry, and purse, and fled without helping her. Altogether more than 40 died in the roadway collapse, among them Mary Washington, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The Regional Building Committee of Jehovah’s Witnesses soon began to assess damages. Two Kingdom Halls suffered minor damage. However, the homes of several Witnesses were so badly damaged that they needed to be destroyed. The work crews were able to put a number of trailers back on their foundations and to repair many of the brothers’ homes and to rebuild others. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been donated to carry on this work.
As the end of this system draws closer, in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy, we can expect more earthquakes and other disasters. (Matthew 24:3-8) There will be hardships no doubt even more severe than those experienced by early Christians when Jerusalem was destroyed. The Bible prophecy has even greater force in our day: “The end of all things has drawn close.” Therefore, what is needed? “Above all things, have intense love for one another.” (1 Peter 4:7, 8) Surely it warms our hearts to see such love being demonstrated among the brotherhood of Jehovah’s Witnesses!
[Maps on page 15]
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[Pictures on page 16, 17]
Right: Hugo’s destruction on the South Carolina coast]
Maxie Roberts/Courtesy of THE STATE
Below: Cars piled up in front of a high school
Maxie Roberts/Courtesy of THE STATE
Bottom: Relief crew of Jehovah’s Witnesses helping in the cleanup and restoration
[Pictures on page 18]
Left: A St. Croix child wearing dress sent by a five-year-old in Michigan who wanted to help
Below: Jehovah’s Witnesses in Guadeloupe sorting donated food
Lower left: Sheila Williams with relief worker who helped rebuild her house that was destroyed
[Pictures on page 21]
Above: The upper roadway of Interstate 880 collapsed onto the lower roadway
Left: Raim Manor on second floor of her house, which ended up at first-floor level