Needs, safety issues in question as Mormon church plans next steps in Japan for members, missionaries

Published: Monday, March 14 2011 1:14 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — LDS Church officials haven't decided whether Mormon missionaries in the areas of Japan hardest hit by the earthquake and tsunami will be relocated or stay and become a humanitarian aid force.

Either scenario is a possibility as the needs are assessed for both the local church population as well as the missionaries, most of whom are expatriate Americans. Missionaries were part of relief efforts in Haiti following the earthquake there 14 months ago and took on humanitarian aid roles following Hurricane Katrina in 2008 and the tsunami originating in the Indian Ocean in 2007.

Safety threats abound in Japan, where the church's Sendai mission includes the troubled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, currently surrounded by a 12-mile evacuation zone.

"We're communicating with local church leaders and government leaders to see what they need," church spokesman Scott Trotter said Monday morning — the middle of the night in Japan, which is 15 hours ahead of Utah time. He said later in the day that no missionaries are in the evacuation zone.

The church reported Saturday morning that all missionaries in the six missions in Japan had been accounted for and were safe. The mission in hard-hit Sendai was the last to report.

From Japan on Monday, a secretary for the Japan Sendai Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said they had power, water and Internet access for the first time since the quake. In an e-mail posted on a website about the Sendai mission, the mission secretary said, "The Nagamachi Ward members, and I'm sure this is going on all around the mission, are organized and checking on the status of church members."

"Each neighborhood has an emergency center where all the missionaries have been instructed to go in such an emergency. They provide safe shelter, water, and other basic needs," the secretary's report says.

Trotter released a statement Monday afternoon that said approximately 95 percent of Latter-day Saints affected areas have been contacted and that initial reports indicate there are no confirmed deaths. "However, there is limited information on the status of members from the most devastated areas."

"Communication and transportation is difficult in the most affected areas, but local church leaders are currently discussing with government and humanitarian organizations ways to provide assistance," the statement says.

E-mail: sfidel@desnews.com

Twitter: SteveFidel

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