From DJTorres@aol.com: Our son Elder Raul Torres is serving in the Comayaguela Honduras Mission. This week we received the following letter about his experiences during this most trying time and I would like to submit it with the intent that it might serve to strengthen faith as well as show how the Lord protects his missionaries.
First let me say, I am all right. This week sure has been a crazy week for me. Over all I have really been blessed. I feel greatly protected by the Lord. Remember always that the Lord is very mindful of His missionaries, especially during times of crisis.
I am assuming that you have heard the news reports of hurricane Mitch here in Honduras. They say that it has been the biggest disaster in Honduras since Hurricane Fife, which hit in 1974. I find it interesting that both occurred during my mission and yours, mom. (Raul's mother Maria served in Honduras in 1974.) I am going to attempt to write of the many happenings of the week. Hopefully I will write in detailed enough manner so you can fully understand the extent of my adventures here.
You will recall in my last letter, I told you about how the mission president had had us confined to our rooms last P-day. They said that the Hurricane was to hit on that day. It was moving slower than expected and so it took longer. Well by Thursday morning it was raining here in Tegucigalpa. All of the weathermen here said that it looked like the hurricane was changing course for Mexico. That was a relief to most people. Tuesday there were transfers announced and my comp was getting transferred out. Tuesday morning it was still raining and the sun was no where to be found. It was very cloudy. The next morning the news said that the hurricane had taken a complete turnaround. Where the hurricane was thought to be heading towards Mexico, instead it was headed straight towards Honduras. Our President sent word that we could work regularly, but if it started to storm very badly we were to go back to our houses.
We went to the office because of my companion's transfer. The transfers where complete and I got a new companion. His name is Elder Avila. He's a greenie and I am to train him. He is from Guatemala City and is a really neat Guy. I can tell that he is going to be a really good missionary and a good friend. He has a lot of spirit and enthusiasm. So we are "rippen it up!"
The next day the hurricane hit the northern coast. It destroyed the Islas de La Bahia and La Ceiba. Many people panicked in San Pedro Sula. There where runs in the Supermarket and Banks. The Hurricane destroyed much of the northern part of Honduras. The Valle de Sula was completely flooded. So much that it looks like a lagoon. It destroyed all the Banana fields so if the prices of your bananas go way up, you know why.
In Tegucigalpa it continued to rain almost non-stop. Many where very concerned. The hurricane was traveling at 3mph. When you consider that an average person can walk about 4mph, you see that it was moving very slowly. Still the mission leaders warned us to be very careful. By the next day the news said that it had changed from a hurricane to a tropical storm. It had lost much of its wind power over land, but it was still dumping tons of water. Here in Tegucigalpa you could not tell the difference because it continued to rain very heavily. Early Friday morning the President called my house and asked me how I was doing and asked about the conditions in my area. I told him that besides the constant rain, things were fine. I later learned that this phone call was unique because the President did not call the other Elders in the mission. Sister Ocampo takes very good care of me. She calls me her favorite son.
As we went to work on Friday things started to get pretty bad in my area. We are situated on a hill that is at the base of a river. As you know Mom, much of Tegucigalpa is very similar throughout the city. The terrain is up and down, up and down with many small rivers. Because the people are so very poor, their homes are very poorly constructed and on very unstable ground. Houses started falling. It started with just one, then two, then many. At this point the people were told to start evacuating their homes. People sought shelter in the schools and churches. Our chapel doors where open to all people. The majority of the evacuees were people who had homes near the river. With so much water the soil just gave way at the weight of the saturated houses and they all just slid down the hill. As more and more water fell the river grew larger and larger. This was all pretty amazing to me. We visited many of our investigators. Especially those who had homes by the river. We spent all day checking in on our investigators. We got home at about 9:30pm. We received a phone call from the ZL's. They told us that we where to leave our house immediately! And go to the house of Elder Whitley who lives about 1 mile away from our house. We where told to stay there until otherwise told. So at 10 o'clock at night we ran from our house. It was raining so very hard. All we had time to take was a change of cloths, our scriptures and my pillow. We arrived at the house just in time to find out that in just a few minutes we would be experiencing the bulk of the storm. It was going to hit Tegucigalpa! It was so very windy. It rained hard all that night. We were told to leave our house because they felt that it was too dangerous. We later learned that nearly 56 Elders were evacuated from their houses. 27 missionaries stayed in the mission home while others were sent to other homes. At 12-o clock midnight the power went out. We spent a restless night on the floor.
The next morning we learned that the damage that occurred during the night was severe. It was still raining. So much was destroyed and more rain continued to fall. We experienced landslides and flooding. Many people in my area of "Flor del Campo" lost their houses.
All missionaries where told not to leave their homes, but we requested special permission to go seek out one of our investigators who was scheduled to be baptized that very day. This man lived by the river so we were able to get a good idea of the destruction. The river swelled and become huge. It had destroyed many houses. The river flowed with so much force as to destroy anything in its path. Across the river was a stone quarry with a lot of heavy machinery like big cranes and Trucks. The river took claim to all the machinery and completely covered the quarry.
That night, the river took out entire colonies of homes. Another dilemma is that it is very difficult to get food. The people here in Honduras are not exactly survivalist when it comes to food storage. Food quickly became a problem for everyone. All the stores where empty of any food and prices shot up. We had to stay inside all day. It rained all day. By nightfall the power came on again and it stopped raining. People were so pleased with that. I spent another night on the floor.
The next morning the clouds had lifted, the sun was shining and my companion commented that, that was the first time he had seen the sun since his arrival in Honduras. By now it is Sunday. Since the church house was filled with so many people we only had a short sacrament meeting. We combined all three wards that day.
Our meeting was a very spiritual sacrament meeting. It was something I shall never forget. After the meeting we were told by our leaders to go home and wait to receive more information on what to do. It was the first time I was able to get back to my house since I had left. We were happy to be back in our own room.
The people were just getting back to their homes. There spirits where high as they talked about rebuilding their city. At this point another tragedy occurred. At 4pm that day the Mayor of Tegucigalpa was involved in a helicopter crash and was killed as he attempted to survey the damage to his city. This is a man the people here affectionately called "El Gordito". This was a very big blow to the city. The mayor was busy trying to plan out the rebuilding of Tegucigalpa. It was so shocking to everyone because he was one of the few Honduran political leaders who really cared for the people. The people here had nicknamed him, "El trabajado". (The worker) Since last year when he was elected he had done a lot to fix up the city. He had hired a lot of unemployed people to clean up the city. They would pick up trash from the streets. He was the hope of the people. Many people were crying, they saw all of this as the final blow to the city.
Today is P-day. I had to run some errands so we went to what was downtown Comayaguela. For the first time I witnessed the full extent of the destruction to the city. It was terrible. The entire downtown sector of Comayaguela is covered with about 1foot of mud. Of the eight bridges that connect Tegucigalpa and Comayaguela, all but two are destroyed. The market place of Comayaguela is completely destroyed. It is gone. The Central Park, La Libertad, is destroyed. The Gates and wall are all fallen to the ground. All the once beautiful plants are dead. Every building is covered in dirt and mud. The buildings that were old toppled to the ground. It looks like a war zone.
I thought, these people were already poor. Now what little they did have has been completely destroyed. I feel so sad because of what has happened. I know how difficult it will be to rebuild this city. But I also have faith that this has all happened for a reason. I think that it is very interesting that most of the damage occurred in the country of Honduras. It's almost as if the hurricane was directly targeted towards Honduras. Some of the Missionaries have said that it seems as though God wanted to baptize Honduras. Perhaps this has occurred to prepare Honduras for a Temple. I do not know, but I do know that the Lord has a plan for his children. There is not doubt in my mind that after this week the Honduran people are some of the humblest people in the world.
We still have a struggle here. We donFt have adequate water and I have not bathed for days. We have no clean clothing to wear. Food is scarce, power sporadic. I also know that if this is all I have to suffer, it is nothing in comparison. I feel so blessed to be a missionary here during his time. It has really taught me so very much. It has shown me what true charity is. I have also learned what true destruction is also. Before experiencing this, Disasters were something in the movies, or on the nightly news, in distant lands. For the first time in my life, it is right next door.
Do not worry. I have never once felt fear for my life. I just keep thinking of what I have witnessed. The people here worry about food. They are taking what little they can salvage out of their homes before the river claims it. Many of the investigators that we contacted on Thursday, we will not be seeing again because on Saturday their house became part of the river. We know not where they are. I saw an old lady crying as she sat in the pile of ruble, which surly must have once been her home. Maybe her home of many years until the river ran thought it. This is all very humbling. Yet I have not heard one person complain or blame God for any of their sufferings. They seem so willing to accept God's will for them.
I trust you will not worry about me. I am well in heart and spirit. My mission president takes very good care of me. I have complete faith in them as my leaders and I hope you do also. My guardian angel has never left my side, now is no exception. Please pray for the people here in Honduras. Pray that they will not lose hope. Pray that they might not suffer more than necessary to bring them to Christ.
I love you. Keep the faith. No Fear! No Regrets! Love,
Elder Raul Elias Torres
The kingdom of God or nothing!
We as parents are very sad that the members in this area are suffering so very much. We pray for them. We are also sad that many of the locations we had in our memory of our time in the mission no longer are there. But we are thankful that the Lord has been mindful of his servants and the members of the Church. It is a valuable lesson for us that in the devastations which will come prior to the Savior's return,and they surely will, that even the Saints will be impacted. Events such as this will only continue in their intensity until our Lord returns and makes us His. Such is the lot of those who live in this generation prior to the Savior's return.