[The following is another excerpt from a history written by LDS-Gems subscriber, Richard L. Millett, who was the mission president when the Dominican Republic was opened up to full-time missionary work in 1978.]
With success, challenges also came in the Dominican Republic. A trial that was to precede a great blessing to the mission was about to occur. In late August, 1979, we began to monitor the weather conditions, particularly when we were informed of a tropical storm that had developed in the Atlantic. By August 28, the storm had become a hurricane and had been named by the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida as "David."
The Hurricane had been on a westerly course until it went of over the top of the island of Dominica. From there "David" turned to a northwest course and appeared as though it would hit Puerto Rico somewhere around the location of the city of Ponce, on the south coast of the island. We had obtained maps that showed the longitudes and latitudes and we tracked its course to determine which way it was headed. New missionaries had arrived and were scheduled to depart for the Dominican Republic the next day, but we felt we needed to track the hurricane the balance of the day. The missionaries who had been serving in the Dominican Republic who were being transferred back to Puerto Rico arrived in the early afternoon. Because it looked like the hurricane was going to hit Puerto Rico we canceled the flights of the missionaries that were scheduled to fly to the Dominican Republic. We refer to my journal for the account of what took place.
Because of the Hurricane warnings, Denna and I went to find some propane to use with our camping stoves that we had brought with us on our mission. We couldn't find any, but did find some battery operated transistor radios that had a weather band on them. These proved to be very beneficial to us. One is for the mission office and one for the mission home.[Hurricane David hit the Dominican Republic on August 30, 1979. Just a few days later, Hurricane Frederick also threatened the island nation. Mission President, Richard L. Millett shared this history regarding the aftermath of these storms.]
We had a mission presidency meeting that evening and went through most of the agenda until we became concerned about the change of course in the hurricane's route and decided to adjourn. We decided to bring all the missionaries from the southern and southwest portions of the island into the city of San Juan.
Most of the missionaries did not arrive in the city until 2 or 3 am. I got up at 6 am to listen to the weather report and found that our prayers which we had offered had been answered, the hurricane had changed it course and was heading west instead of at Puerto Rico.
We continued to chart the course of Hurricane David throughout the day. Although it did change course, it saturated Puerto Rico with rain and there were high winds also.
The evening of August 30th, I called President [John] Davis in Santo Domingo and alerted him to the hurricane. He called back by ham radio which we may have to use if the hurricane should hit the Dominican Republic and the telephone lines go down. I advised him to bring all of the missionaries from the outer cites of the island to the Piantini Chapel in Santo Domingo in order that we could keep track of them and know of their safety.
Elder [Joseph B.] Wirthlin called in the afternoon to see how we were and we informed him that everything was alright at that point. Sister Millett and I had been scheduled to fly to Santo Domingo the next day for zone conferences, but it was obvious that we needed to cancel our flight as well as the conferences.
We continued to track the course of the hurricane. The missionaries in Puerto Rico who had come to the capital returned to their areas. The members in Puerto Rico were all safe, although some of the areas on the southern part of the island had a lot of water.
We now became concerned about the course of hurricane David as it approached the Dominican Republic. Elder Wirthlin called again to see how we were. We went out in the afternoon and shopped for additional supplies and food.
As the hurricane progressed toward Santo Domingo, we became concerned as it approached the island from the west. It appeared that it would continue on this course and safely pass the island on the south as it had done with Puerto Rico. However, as the hurricane reached a point directly south of Santo Domingo, we became alarmed when it turned on a northward course and went directly at the heart of the island. We later found out that the reason it made a right-hand turn was because the winds reacted to the mountains of the Dominican that reach upward to 10,000 feet. The winds, by this time, had strengthened and were reported to be over 150 miles per hour. They were now devastating.
I didn't sleep much that night, worrying about our missionaries and how the hurricane might be effecting them and the members. I listened to the weather report at 9 pm, 12 am, 3 pm and 6 am. Each report said that `the winds were destructive, that there was high loss of life and no communication was possible with the island.'
I had no recourse to know about the missionaries except our Heavenly Father. I spent some time in prayer and then as I got up, I felt impressed to call them on the telephone. Even though the radio reports said 'there was no communication between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic', I still had this prompting. I had faith and knew that I must find out what was happening. The phone began to ring, but that didn't always mean it was functioning. The phone system would often ring and nobody would answer when it was a actually out of order. How blessed I felt when Elder Hunter answered the phone. I asked how everyone was and he reported that all were safe and that they had spent the night singing hymns, having scripture chases and praying as the wind carried projectiles by the chapel. What a relief to know that all were safe.
I knew that Elder Wirthlin, our Executive Administrator was out of town on a conference assignment. Therefore, I called Elder Carlos Asay, the Executive Director of the Missionary Department to inform him that missionaries and members we were all well and safe.
The Lord had performed a miracle for us. Although the reports said there was 'no communication possible with the Dominican Republic,' we had been able to communicate with the missionaries who were assembled together. I didn't realize how significant that was until I tried later in the day and throughout the next days to call, only to find that the lines were 'out of order.' The Lord had provided the medium by which we were able to call and verify their safety.
We now became concerned about the report of another hurricane, this one named "Frederick" that was approaching Puerto Rico directly from the east. Our attention focused on its course as we began to track its progress.
I made plans to go to Santo Domingo to check on the members and encourage the missionaries. Finally, after three or four days, I was able to talk to President Davis in the Dominican Republic about the aid that they felt that we might need in that country. The members appeared to be fine at that time. We determined we could make a better assessment when we got there. I had planned originally to fly over by myself to examine first hand the damage and determine the needs of the members. President Talley indicated that he would like to go also. I changed my plans and decided to fly over with him in his plane.
I visited with President Davis once again concerning our trip preparations and when we should send the missionaries who were to have been transferred to the Dominican Republic before the hurricane. There was no space available on any flights going to the Dominican Republic for the missionaries, and that was just as well because it gave me an opportunity to fly there first and see what the conditions were like first hand before we sent any missionaries from Puerto Rico.
On September 8, 1979, I met President Talley at his apartment at about 6:30 am, and we drove over to the airport and found the company that normally fuels his airplane, and we were off by 8:30 a.m. We approached the city of Santo Domingo around 9:30 am, and could see the effects of hurricane Frederick still lingering. Apparently, it had intensified as it crossed the Straights of Mono between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. It was dropping a great deal of rain on an already saturated country. capital had been ruined. The trees were up-rooted, the sidewalks, benches and rocks had been hurled up and onto the road. We found the city without electricity and very little water, which was also very contaminated. The food supply was somewhat low and we were informed that the United States government hat authorized food to be shipped into the country.Although hurricane David and tropical storm Frederick were trials to the people of the Dominican Republic, it proved to be a blessing to the missionary work. People were more receptive and the service that the missionaries had rendered for the two weeks following its destructive force, had provided an impetus to the work and an increase in the number of conversions.
We went directly to the Piantini Chapel in Santo Domingo and held a missionary conference with the 39 missionaries who had weathered the effects of a hurricane and a tropical storm back to back. I interviewed all of them in order that they could return to their cities and areas to contact the members and investigators.
We found that the missionaries were all in good spirits and that the experience of the storms had strengthened them. I counseled all of the missionaries to return to their areas, put on their preparation-day clothing and to go out into the streets and neighborhoods and work along side their Dominican brothers and sisters. This proved to be one of the most beneficial things that we could have done. The Dominicans saw that they really cared and recognized them as the disciples of Christ that they were.
We found that the roads to some of the cities had washed out, especially to the north. The Elders laboring in Santiago had to stay overnight, the Elders from San Pedro tried to go back, and found five to six feet of water in that city. Nevertheless, all the missionaries were eventually able to safely make it back to their apartments in their respective cities.
In the evening, we met with President Davis, my counselor and President Rappleye, the president of the Ensanche Piantini Branch. We discussed the future of the branches in the country, also, what had to be done to complete the legal work for the Church's official recognition and its legal entity in the country. We determined that since President Rappleye was being called as the district president, and would need to travel that we should call a new branch president in Piantini where he was serving.
There was no electricity in any of the city of Santo Domingo, or in the chapel. The Sheraton Hotel where we had been staying was running on auxiliary power, but did have some electricity from time to time. I had learned to always fill the wash basin full of water at night in order that I would have something to use for shaving in the morning, in case there was no water supply. We took cold showers, ate breakfast that was all prepared buffet style with fuel canisters. We went to the Piantini Chapel for priesthood meeting. We sustained Brother Rodolfo Boden, the first Dominican to be baptized as the new president of the Piantini Branch. In anticipation of the creation of the second branch of Ozama in Santo Domingo, we called Brother Eddie Amparo to serve in that position.
Following the services at Piantini, we returned to the hotel, ate lunch and along with President Talley, President and Sister Davis, drove to San Cristobal, approximately 20 miles west of Santo Domingo, the area where the eye of the hurricane David had passed. We found that the devastation was much worse than it was in Santo Domingo. Trees were laying around the ground like match-sticks. The trees had been spun around by the swirling effects of the winds and the point at which they had been broken off was pointed like a toothpick because they had been literally twisted from their trunks. In addition to the trees, many houses were destroyed and flattened. Puddles of water lay everywhere and people were trying to dry out their clothing and household effects, which was almost impossible because it had been pouring rain for several days. We really felt sorry for the suffering of the people.
Electrical poles were laying flat everywhere, some houses appeared as if they had exploded from the pressures of the winds.
As we approached the branch of San Cristobal, we could see that the Elders were holding services. We went inside and President Talley and I talked to the members and investigators much the way we had in Santo Domingo. We counseled them about the importance of coming back from these problems and the personal growth they would experience, even though it was hard at that time to comprehend.
One of the investigators in San Cristobal had a testimony building experience which caused him to repent of the things that had been keeping him from being baptized and request that the missionaries baptize him immediately. His humble home had been the only house on the block that had been spared. It was probably the least substantial of any of the homes, but had remained untouched by the hurricane while the others had been completely leveled to the ground.