The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints members of the Fort Walton Beach Stake and surrounding areas descended upon hurricane ravaged areas in Northwest Florida and went to work.
One week before the hurricane hit, three tractor trailer trucks were waiting to go in. Communications were set up with generators, Wi-Fi and modems and computers for taking work orders at the Panama City Stake Center. Supplies came in by the truckloads and continued to arrive from the local Bishop's Storehouses in Atlanta, Georgia, Slidell, Louisiana, and other areas and were assembled quickly. Tools such as chainsaws, wheelbarrows, tarps, work gloves and cleaning supplies came with these shipments. Food and supplies such as canned and dried goods, milk, water, diapers, wipes, feminine products clothes, hygiene kits and toilet tissue arrived and were organized and distributed.
As they worked, they were greeted with disbelief as residents watched them working tirelessly on the damaged homes, cutting trees, applying tarps on missing and damaged roofs, handing out water and food. "God bless you" was heard over and over again as their faces lit up with hope. Members came from six states to help — Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Texas and Florida.
Work totals were impressive the first weekend with 2,450 volunteers, 32,645 work hours, 2,002 work orders completed, and 1,200 tarps placed on roofs on the first weekend alone. Missionaries serving in the area worked beside the members.
The Fort Walton Beach Stake was asked to send 160 workers, but 270 showed up to help their fellow Floridians battle the devastation facing them.
"Fun day working with friends in Panama City, working alongside some of the most noble men I know who don't just serve in times of crisis but all the time ... professional servers, I guess you would say, and they are dang good at it," said one of the volunteers.
General authorities came from Salt Lake City to visit the Carolinas and then flew to Florida and presented a "Fireside" at the Stake Center in Panama City. Governor Rick Scott attended and expressed his gratitude to the Latter-day Saints and the other rescuers present from other organizations. President Dallin Oaks of the First Presidency said the situation reminded him of 162 years ago when two Handcart Companies were stranded in early blizzards on the plains of Wyoming and the residents of Utah united to donate all they had and risk their lives to go out and bring those folks to safety.
These men attended a brief sacrament service on Sunday and then set out to greet the workers and help where they could. The members were very grateful to have their leaders come so quickly to give them encouragement and a spiritual lift.