SALT LAKE CITY — All young Mormon missionaries in Puerto Rico and neighboring islands are evacuating to the United States due to power outages and short supplies of food and water.
The evacuation of more than 150 missionaries is temporary. They will return to help communities rebuild once basic infrastructure is restored, according to a news release issued Friday afternoon by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Meanwhile, the LDS Church is buying food in bulk from grocery chains in Puerto Rico to help victims of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria, the release said.
The church's Welfare Department is shipping nonperishable food items and building materials like plywood, roofing materials, nails, tools and tarps from U.S. welfare facilities.
The church also is supporting the Red Cross and other relief agencies as they shelter displaced people and provide other help.
"There is currently great need existing in Puerto Rico and the surrounding islands, and all those who have been impacted by hurricanes Irma and Maria are in our thoughts and prayers," church leaders said in a statement. "The church is mobilizing humanitarian resources to help. This includes providing food, water and other commodities to the islands in that region. Additional supplies will be sent in the future to help with recovery and reconstruction efforts as we better assess the situation."
The church also is engaged in relief efforts in Mexico after the major earthquake this week. And it has provided aid in Sierra Leone after a recent mudslide, in Texas after Hurricane Harvey, in Montana due to wildfires, and elsewhere.
The impact of Irma and Maria led church leaders to evacuate the missionaries from the Puerto Rico San Juan Mission to other areas because of the storm.
"We can confirm that all missionaries are safe and accounted for," the statement said. "However, the islands in the region are largely without power, water and food is in short supply. Missionaries, who have been engaged in cleanup efforts since the storm's passing, are being transferred from the islands in the Puerto Rico San Juan Mission and temporarily reassigned in other areas until basic needs can be met, and then they will return to help."
Puerto Rico has a single Mormon mission and 23,000 church members in 41 congregations.
The Caribbean Area Presidency — Elder Walter F. Gonzalez, Elder Claudio D. Zivic and Elder Jose L. Alonzo — also released a statement:
"We have been collaborating with local priesthood leaders located at the most affected areas in order to assess the situation of our members, missionaries, meetinghouses and the situation in general," they said. "At the present time, our greatest interest is to safeguard human lives and evaluate the situation in order to identify the best way possible to help those in need and cooperate with efforts from local authorities. As we assess the situation, we're confident that effective ways to help as necessary will be identified."